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Secretamente: An Officer Cortez Fic

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For the second time that morning Evalianna called for the indolent maid and received no reply. Ordinary circumstances would have required her to be concerned about the whereabouts of Susan, but these were not ordinary circumstances and the entire household was in disarray. She resigned herself to sorting out her black silk gown and looking very pale and threw her head into her hands on the dressing table. Beside her a black hat draped with a thin veil balanced on the edge of the table. It would be unseemly to appear in public in a full black mantilla, the symbol of a married woman. And white, that of an unmarried woman, Evalianna feared would be disrespectful. But the lace was soft and delicate in her fingers as she plied them in her hand, tempted to wear the ostentatious gift from her Godfather, to yet another funeral.  

“Where is that girl?” 

At the pinnacle moment when she needed help dressing, Susan was still nowhere to be found.  Perhaps attending to her father, a thought that sent chills down her spine. She did not want to believe that, but neither did they try to hide their evening relations. She almost hoped her father would marry Susan and be done with it. 

“Stockings,” she mumbled, opening a heavy drawer. The only ones not hanging in the laundry lay folded neatly at the bottom and she sighed. Bright red. She had no choice. Why had she kept such a shocking piece of clothing? 


“I could go without them? No one would notice,” looking down and assuring herself of the modest length of her mourning gown. “Besides, what horrible person would be trying to look licentiously at someone during a funeral!”

“Susan!” She called desperately once more and received the same empty response. 

The stockings hardly fit and she struggled to tie the garters. Nothing was going smoothly this morning. Sighing and falling back down on the chair, Evalianna looked down and stretched her feet. 

“Shoes!” She ran and grabbed them from under her bed. “Of course.” The buckles were missing. 

In a small oak chest which had on the top a broken lock, in what remained of her mother’s most precious items, Evalianna rummaged through to find the gold buckles inlaid with red and clear paste stones. They did not shine as she remembered, and walking toward the window she held them up and danced them in the thin morning light. 

She looked out the window to the gravel below. There was a brief moment held against time, floating between the door and the billowing curtain where she had longed to be held by the wind. Time called, hovering and waiting for her to step out. 

“Eva!” It was her father shouting from outside her door. When she did not answer he banged against the wood twice with his fist. “You must come down! Open this door!”

Either to the door or out the window . She contemplated it - the window - open and light and two stories above the ground. A bird for a moment, and a soul caressing the sky the next.

“Evalianna Trenton!”

The shout of her name broke her attention and she conceded to his demand, unlocking the door and opening it. 

“Yes father,” her voice reticent. “I will be down in a moment.”

He gave her a deprecating look. 

“You will take the second carriage. I have to - speak with Doctor Barton. Privately.” 


“Yes father.” 

---

Ambassador Trenton released a hollow grunt from his throat.  The large white ribbon tied around his forearm pinched his circulation and he clapped his fingers against his palm, the tingling sensation becoming worse. Even the vibration from the carriage travelling at quick speed along the cobblestone road gave no relief.  

“Really Barton is this necessary?”

“Yes,” flipping his own white ribbon with his hand. “You are doing what is required. You will walk in, head down, and try to look...” 

He examined the Ambassador sitting across from him, dressed in a somber black velvet frock with silver threads, (the silver naturally imported from Mexico) sewn in broad floral motifs along the large cuffs. There was no other way to put it. Ambassador Trenton had lost his second child and was about to walk into a Lion’s Den of gossip and political intrigue and the scowl on his face read boredom rather than mourning. 

“Well. Less agitation and more – humility. At least try to appear that you care.” 

Trenton continued to shuffle uncomfortably in the carriage seat and looked out the window. “Could we not have done this privately? And I do care! But this weeping and showing grief the Spanish expect us to perform. It’s not natural Barton! Let me grieve in silence.”

“What Edward? Behind closed doors? No. Let the town mourn him.” The doctor leaned in. “You are England here. Show them dignity. Concern. We’re not the barbarians their King makes us out to be.” Perhaps the murderer will make a surprise confession in the Church, he thought as they pulled up to the Arco de Pópulo

The Chapel Nuestra Señora del Pópulo stood atop the gateway that led into the remaining Medieval party of Cadiz. Two white towers flanked the entrance. It was a modest Chapel by Spanish standards and when they stopped in front of the great oak door, Evalianna wished for nothing more than to be back home.  

She exited the carriage behind her father and he took her hand. 

“Where is Susan?” He asked perturbedly. 


Evalianna kept her head down and spoke faintly. “I couldn’t find her. Is she not with you?”

Trenton stopped. “What do you mean couldn’t find her!?” 

“Not now Trenton.” Barton raised an eyebrow and gestured towards the Church doors. 

Evalianna genuflected before entering the front pew, followed by her father and then Dr. Barton. One of the accolades standing in the aisle with his tall brass staff and red glass lantern turned his bold boyish eyes at Trenton and stuck his tongue out at the English stranger. Trenton gave the boy a spurious smile back. 

Trenton cleared his throat and tugged at his cravat, the smoke of incense laying itself across his cheeks and settling into his nostrils. It was suffocating, and all the gilded reminders of Spain’s religious heart were encroaching and implanting visions of guilt on his soul. He looked over at his daughter, her hands tightly folded and a whimper coming from her lips. What am I supposed to do with Evalianna now? His thoughts in every direction except on the casket in front of him, draped in black velvet at the foot of the Altar. The primitive silver skull embroidered on the fabric cast its hollow eyes toward Heaven. But for a moment Trenton thought they lowered and peered at him, and he feared words would rise out of the boney mouth in condemnation. He raised his right hand to bless himself, but waved his hand as if he was brushing a fly away from his face rather than completing a symbol of faith.

Directly across the nave from the grieving family sat the Alcalde, Comandante de la Garza, and next to him, kneeling in prayer, his eyes intent on the statue of Nuestra Señora de los Dolores, was Armando Salazar. His attendance was requested by Ambassador Trenton himself in hopes of furthering a social bond between the families. Salazar accepted in private the request under the condition he attend with the Guardia so as to not, as he put it, offend the delicate sensibilities of a grieving sister. 

The one mercy in this ordeal was that the Father saying Mass was known for his prompt invocations and Trenton’s demand that words of spiritual comfort or prayers for the bound souls would be made the following week. 

The candles on the Altar became a myriad of flickering gold breaking the stale air surrounding the casket. During Mass Evalianna refused to kneel, refused to stand at the appropriate times. Instead she hid behind her black veil tears stemming from anger, not of holy piety. Her eyes stared through the delicate lace draped over her hat, and content on keeping in shadow the side of her face, she glanced over at Salazar. And began to regret, for his sake, the burden of courtly mannerisms they both now had to abide by.   

The gentle Officium Defunctorum of Tomás Luis de Victoria rose, a soothing choir of voices falling from the loft behind her and stretching its arms across her shoulders. Evalianna imagined for a moment it was her mother's voice among them, the lighter second soprano’s cantus speaking against her ear. The only interruption was the occasional thrice ringing of a set of small bells and the clank from the chains of the censer as the priest rounded the Altar between prayers to fill the room again with incense. Could Heaven reach down and place before a man the sounds of a soul being caught up to the Eternal? Evalianna closed her eyes and allowed herself, this time, to lose her thoughts, not to her near future, but to the one beyond Earth. 

Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine...

And it was over. The small assembly processed discreetly out, following the casket and the ostentatiously vested priest with his servers who had the luxury of being shaded from the Summer heat by a white canopy trimmed in gold. 

The burial was swift, and the priest held to Trenton’s request that the words spoken were minimal as Peter’s body was laid in the ground next to his mother and his sister. 

Cortez had placed himself behind one of the trees in the cemetery and watched covertly. He was not surprised to see Salazar, yet he noticed one important person missing: Don Pedro. 

“I extend my great sorrow to your family,” Salazar bowed politely as he greeted  Ambassador Trenton. 

Trenton smiled broadly and nodded. “Yes, yes. Thank you. Tell me, any news of an arrest?”

“The Alcalde, I know he is making a list.”

“Good! Excellent!” He then brushed his hands together and cleared his throat. “I mean, you understand, it will be some days before I may allow you to see my daughter again.”

Salazar furrowed his brow, insulted by the Ambassador's forwardness and excused himself from the courtyard. 

The towering marble Memorial emblazoned with the Trenton name would receive another sculpture soon, one that, in Mr. Trenton’s eyes symbolised his heir’s life. A resting lamb would be placed at the foot of the grand winged angel holding a cross and pointing toward Heaven. Evalianna remained there, finally bending her knee in prayer and to lay a handful of flowers under her mother’s name.

“Come Eva.” Her father reached down his hand to help her stand. 

“Father, let me stay. Only for a few moments.” She had much on her heart and no ear to listen except for the ones buried below the ground.  

Edward Trenton sighed at the pathetic appeal of his daughter and it was Barton that convinced him to let the girl have her way and turn his attention to speaking with the Alcalde.  Mr. Ledford was assigned to watch her, and he placed himself at a modest distance sitting down comfortably on the edge of a tiered and silent fountain.

 

If it was her mother’s voice she heard in the choir, it was her face she saw in the marbled angel above her. A woman who took the vow of obedience to her husband in extreme, following the man who showered her with promises of a life at court, but behind closed doors beat her at a smallest error in etiquette. It was not a life Evalianna wanted to follow in. 

Mr. Ledford fell asleep, and she seized the brief moment, caught by the sounds of the river to wander beyond the crowd still gathered outside the gates to wander in solitude. 

Cortez watched in trepidation as she came closer. He could not leave the way he entered, it would mean waking Mr. Ledford. And now, he could not leave via the river or she would see him. 

She followed the waters that ran under the arch. They gently rose and crested with the tide, the saltwater meeting freshwater at the bend, a swirling current below tree lined banks. 

The water crisp and cold below tempted her just enough to put her feet in. As her shoes filled with the water it filtered between her stockings and undulated between her toes. For a moment she thought to pick up her dress and keep walking. Instead she allowed the hem to soak in the river, a swirl below her body slowly and rhythmically taking away the pain, the shocking cold stopping her tears. And now she was truly alone, with only her father and regrettably some distant Aunt in the Kingdom of Naples holding her future fortunes. 

The rocks were slick below her, the steady current rising above her ankles. She had unconsciously kept walking, and a small fish came to inspect the bows on her shoes. She leaned down and spoke aloud with outstretched hands as she began to drop to her knees in the water: 

Oh to be free of such constraints and assigned to the Heavens as a star!

Her shoes slipped from under her, and pressure around her waist removed in a great sweeping motion the air from her lungs.

“No Señorita!” 

She was on land, her feet not touching the ground, and a panicked breath rapidly pulsating in her ear. But she opened her eyes and recognized the arm around her, or at least the cuff of the uniform.  

“Señor?” Turning her head over her shoulder to meet his eyes. “Cortez?” 

He gently put her down and stood erect but refused to release her arm.

“Please let me go. What are you doing here?” She demanded. 

He scanned her face. The fear he had seen in her eyes when they were in the Library were now replaced by defiance. Another, yet this time, slowly, a breath passed between them. 

“I watch you,” he said matter of factly. 

“Yes I can see that,” she chidded, twisting her ankle that began shooting with pain. “Which you shouldn’t be doing by the way. I hardly think my father would,” she paused and backed away, placing a respectable distance between them, trying to hide her unsteady step backwards.  

“Why are you here?” She repeated.  

“I am sorry. Your brother.”

“Thank…thank you.”  

“Who?” 

“Hm?” 

“Who is there?” He motioned to the graves. 

“My mother. My sister,” she replied brushing herself off. “This is ridiculous. I will try my Spanish. Maybe it will be easier.”

“No! I can speak English to you!” he said excitedly. 

“Oh. I didn’t…it sounded like you didn’t understand me. Before.”

“Yes.”

“Yes what? You don’t understand me or?”

“You. I help you? Um,” he shook his head feeling very much the fool of the moment. Something about her made him nervous. 

“What is it?”

“Danger,” was all he could think to answer.

“From whom?” She scoffed. “I have the protection of two Kings not to mention the position of my father. No one would harm our family.”

“Oh? Why is your brother dead?” He said mockingly though he regretted his words immediately. 

“A – mistake. Mistaken identity.”  

But in his mind there was no simple mistake. “You are a danger Señorita.” 

“I think...I - have to go.” Her face burned and flushed red as she turned away, unable to hold his gaze without her hands trembling. She began to hobble up the hill when he noticed her uneven walk. 

“I carry you!” He announced. 

“Maybe, maybe Señor I should walk.”

“No.” And he picked her up fully in his arms, only then noticing the shocking red of her stockings contrasting with her black shoes. Now who has the muddy shoes? he thought.

“Señor! Let me go this instant. Please! It is not appropriate!”

“No.”

“I insist you put me back on the ground. I can walk!” But her arms tightened around his strong shoulders. 

“No. I carry you. Caminar es para caballos!”

“Horse?”  

“Bien! You are a horse?” he asked cooley.  

“Uh no,’’ she replied, her mouth agape. 

“No! I am a horse!”

“You are,” looking down at the closed space between them she blushed. “...a horse?”

“Yes.”

“Oh.” Her lips creased to a tremulous smile. “You are a very strange man. What is your name?”

“Cortez.”

“No your first name,” she could hardly repeat the question, his lips hovering just above hers. 

“Evalianna!” 

She gasped and Cortez opened his arms, almost dropping her to the ground in surprise.  

“Evalianna!” Her father’s voice carried over the hill. 

“Shit. That’s my father. You need to hide!” She forcefully pushed him behind a tree. 

¿Qué ?”

“Debes esconderte!” she ordered and tried hastily to brush her dress down into place while walking away. 

Evalianna stood before her father, utterly disheveled with a false innocence glazed in her eyes. Her shoes were destroyed, and the hem of her dress heavy and wet from the river. And her hat! Balanced lopsided and by Providence’s help alone stayed in place by a single ribbon. She bit down on her bottom lip before responding with a smile. 

“What - happened?” He asked.

“I was um collecting… flowers,” brushing her hair away from her eyes. “Flowers! For Sissi’s grave. And I fell.”

“I see no flowers here. You need to be more careful clumsy girl.”

Trenton jerked his head around at the sound of what he thought was a laugh. 

“Who is that?”

“I didn't hear anything. Come father,” she pleaded and tugged on this coat sleeve. “I am tired. And I would like to go home.” She tried to force the most pitiful sound to accompany her words. 

He brushed her off and strode to the side of the river. “You there! Show yourself.”

Cortez boldly stepped into view and smiled. If Ambassador Trenton wanted to meet him, properly, he would emerge from the shadows. Never one to hide he was not to begin now.   

Evalianna pretended to be surprised and grabbed her father’s arm. 

“You there! Your name!” Trenton demanded. 

“Name?”

“Yes you idiot. Your name Señor Soldier. I shall have you reported to the Comandante. Have you no discretion? No respect for the dead! What are you doing here?”

Cortez looked back and forth over his shoulders and grinned. “Patrol Señor.”

“Patrol. Here? A cemetery?”

“Si.”

¿Por qué ?” Trenton asked in a mocking tone. 

“El funeral. Capitán DeSoto -,” He knew he had slipped up before the name sounded in the air. But he could not stop the motion and his eyes kept focused on Evalianna. 

“Father, he was helping me.” She was desperate and attempted to divert her father’s inquest in any way, even if that meant tarnishing her reputation. After all, her father never showed a care about it before and she doubted he would begin now. 

Trenton loosely paid attention to his daughter’s words and only one name piqued his thoughts. “DeSoto ay?” He remarked quietly as he turned back to Evalianna.  “See to it you no longer accept help from ordinary soldiers. We are leaving!”

Despite the warning from Trenton, Cortez reached out to offer his hand to help her. She shrunk back.

“No,” she said timidly, shaking her head. Her eyes shot to the ground below his feet.

It was the dismal sound of her ‘no’, a lingering sorrow he suspected had nothing to do with the death of her brother, or her mother, that burned into his mind. 

He watched in silence as they boarded the carriage and drove away. 

But before they reached the city gate, Evalianna leaned out the window to look back, wondering at the soldier who again had taken her arm in a most desperate hour. 

 ---

Outside the Comandante’s Office, Salazar and Lesaro stood waiting for their Superior Officer.  Cortez noticed them before they saw him and he was just about to turn and walk away down a  different corridor when Salazar called out. 

“Cortez! Come now. Join us!”
Cortez resigned himself and took company with the gentlemen. 

“You are a good soldier,” Salazar addressed him. “I have already told you what my plan is. I intend on riding the world of Spain’s enemies. All of them. And, I want you to join us.”

“I don’t think he is convinced yet Armando,” Lesaro said. 

“Why not? Who am I? Armando Ignacio Salazar. Even before coming to Cadiz you have heard my name. Lesaro, Lesaro here – he is my right hand! We stand together. Now I ask you to join us. There will be a commission soon,” nodding his head thoughtfully. “I will be Capitán.” 

“How can you know this?” Cortez asked. 

“Finally the man speaks,” Lesaro said. 

Salazar turned to Lesaro and smirked.

“He knows,” Lesaro continued, “because he is the best man for the task.”

“I will clear the seas of our foe. My question again to you. Will you hunt with us?”

“You will kill with no regard to their souls?” Cortez had turned his question to blatant arrogance and Salazar whipped his head around. 

“That is not what I said. I will sink their ships and leave their fate to God. If they swim, they are spared. If they drown, that is their fate.” 

“No desire for a soldier’s duty to protect Spain?” Lesaro interjected. 

“No desire to spill blood in such quantities.”

Salazar had yet another warning. “It is too bad. Stay on the land and when the English try to invade again, I hope you are not chased from your comfortable home and slaughtered along with the foreigners in the confusion.”  

“And what of the Señorita? Will you see that she is safe?” Cortez retorted. 

Salazar paused then swiftly nodded, and Lesaro took the cue to be dismissed from the argument he suspected would commence. 

“I hold Evalianna in very high regard,” Salazar said, approaching Cortez and leaning into his shoulder. 

“Yes but you –,” Cortez tried to rebuke him, remembering the words Salazar had spoken the previous evening. 

“I keep giving you pieces of advice, don’t I Cortez? Then let me give you one more. The places you are going have eyes and ears in every corner. At every table. In every street. How do you think it would appear if the Admiralty thought I was courting an enemy, hm? An English girl whose father has outwardly spoken against the Spanish Crown? I would have no career. The deception must be visible.  More – though I do not know why I trust you with this information Cortez de Córdoba, there is more to Ambassador Trenton and his companions that you do not need to know. The Alcalde has given me orders. Yes, I visit Paraíso . I walk with his daughter because Trenton allows it. She - is an honorable woman.” He paused to lay his hand on his sword. “Do not think for a moment I would not defend that honor.”

The dark tone in Salazar’s voice intrigued Cortez and he nearly spoke, when the Comandante opened his door and invited the other Officers in. 

And the dagger. 

It again twisted against Cortez’s side, reminding him of its weight. 

Reminding him of the vision in the street, and the sound of a single gull crying out. 

 ---

“Well Marcos, I think I’m in trouble.” Cortez threw his boots off and sat on the edge of his bunk. 

“You think too much,” his friend replied, only now taking the time to have a much needed stretch before laying down for the night.  

“No,” he was steady. “No. Trenton saw me at the cemetery and I mentioned Capitan’s name.” 

“Oh.” Marcos rolled to his side in the bed. “I am sure it will be alright. You did not tell him anything that he could not have discovered later. Oh! That shot you heard last night? Some man, drunk, decided to fire his pistol in the air because - the report said - he wanted to mark the beat in the song he was singing and thought it perfect accompaniment. Strange I know.” Marcos turned over to his back and stared out the window above his head. “Dutch.”

“What?”

“Dutch. They hauled him away singing about the glories of Austria.”

“And the man is still alive?” Cortez laughed. 

Marcos yawned and pulled the covers over his head. “Good Night.”

Cortez finished undressing and lay the jewelled dagger under his pillow. From under the mattress he retrieved his new book and ran his hand along the cover before settling properly into his bunk keeping it hidden under the covers. 

Paradise Lost, Book 1:  John Milton

Why his father insisted on keeping this book locked away in a separate place and not with the other stack of ‘forbidden’ books Cortez had found had always puzzled him.  What was it specifically about this story? With a heavy sigh he began to read the first stanza: 

OF Man's First Disobedience, and the Fruit

Of that Forbidden Tree, whose mortal taste

Brought Death into the World, and all our woe,

With loss of Eden, till one greater Man

Restore us, and regain the blissful Seat,

He hated to admit but not even a full sanza in and he was beginning to conclude Marcos might be right, and this was not the easiest way to improve his grasp on the English language. 

In truth he could pronounce most words, and remembered his father claimed that at least the English had the decency to pronounce a great deal more letters in their words than the French, who seemed to have thrown the entire alphabet out in favor of only vowels. But the truth was much deeper. He had listened more than Felipe realized. He had paid attention to the nuances of the language but convinced himself Spain would conquer the world, not the Ingles, and so it annoyed him but also delighted him to put his knowledge to work. The defect of course was knowing he was giving in and doing something he thought he would never have to return to because of one man’s actions. 

It was his father’s friend assigned to be his English tutor when they lived in Cordoba. The man insisted that the end of a thin cane to a boy’s back was the quickest way to ensure perfection in academics. Cortez learned, but in stubbornness purposely failed at each review. Until the day the man warned his mother about his obstinate ways. Ah but the favorite son was comforted, and his mother supported the idea of Spain being the great conqueror, and had little patience for contradictory views. Cortez hid himself behind the door of the study and listened as his mother berated the tutor. 

If my son does not want to learn the language of our enemy, Senor, I will not force him and your employment in this household has come to an end.

‘Senora Cortez you cannot dismiss me! I have a contract with your husband!’

It did the man no benefit to argue with Senora Cortez and the tutor never returned to their home to the extreme delight of the boy.  

Now Cortez was determined to speak to Ambassador Trenton, and in his own language, to tell him off if nothing else. He cringed, remembering the embarrassed look on Evalianne’s innocent blushing face when he called himself a horse.  And so he would force himself to learn English, perfectly. Even Salazar’s own words had said it: Perfectly. 

He opened the book and read again. 

Sing Heav'nly Muse, that on the secret top

Of Oreb, or of Sinai, didst inspire

That Shepherd, who first taught the chosen Seed,

In the Beginning how the Heav'ns and Earth

Rose out of Chaos: or if Sion Hill

Delight thee more, and Siloa's brook that flow'd   

Cortez began to doze off and realized he needed to mark the page he was studying. He reached over the edge of the bed to his coat pocket, remembering the paper Salazar dropped. It was now more crumbled than before and he held it to the moonlight, studying the map. But through that light he noticed the calligraphy on the other side. He read it easily, for it was in Spanish although with some grammatical errors and a few blots of ink showing it was written hastily. 

Sir,

Once again I am allowed to slip the chains of my cage and graciously you agreed to meet with me. Even now I feel my words of joy do not express the flighted happiness I have known in your company. I know you will forgive my boldness in addressing you in such a manner. Your own words to me encourage me to declare my feelings. My thoughts too do intrude my sleep, which you have spoken and matched with uncommon deeds!  A wrong I could never bear, if you had not told me with the delicate proposal the expressions of your future. 

His own words? Cortez thought. Maybe Salazar was a man capable of deep feelings? But who was writing this letter? Susan? Bianca perhaps. She appeared well versed with her customers and would need to be fluent in several languages, including the written word if she were to keep her employment. She seemed so confident at the Inn. His words about Evalianna this afternoon? Cortez laughed at the thought of Salazar’s threat. 

‘... It is a bitter suffering, to be surrounded by so many willing to manipulate. You have proven true in our discourse, and my heart Wills to be healed by Your words. With one stroke, the pen in your own hand has made my heart bloom with new life.”

Cortez stopped and put the letter down. He wondered why all these women were throwing themselves at Salazar. He thought of going back to Milton and his drivel of the Heavens. Even Lucifer intrigued him more than the weary and pitiful words of this woman, whomever she was. 

But he forced himself to continue reading beyond the second paragraph. 

“… I have nothing to offer you. No dowry but my heart, no title but my honor. They have betrayed me. And so I come to you. Why do you haunt my mind in the middle of the night? Torment me with the heavy gaze of your eyes?

...For without love we are the empty canvas of a sail, the becalmed sea, Fate’s own catastrophic Will. And here is the villain! That I should trust one who pities me and takes in the lies of fellow servants as Truth! I am banished from my country, my soul. 

...Oh to be free of such constraints and assigned to the Heavens as a star ..”

Those words! He recognized them and frantically searched for the signature at the bottom:

I sign not as yours, rather a heavy and confused heart - Evalianna