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Secretamente: An Officer Cortez Fic

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“Five days! Five days and not a single arrest. Comandante!” Trenton had not stopped yelling at the King’s Officers from the moment he entered the room. “I have just buried my son and not one person arrested.  My son was attacked! Unprovoked and unarmed! Your men, who you have assured me to have the acclaim of the King, were supposed to be patrolling the town that day. Now. I want to know exactly who killed my son!”

The Comandante stared at the man sitting on the very edge of the small chair opposite him. He reluctantly let Ambassador Trenton in to discuss his concerns but that discussion was rapidly deteriorating to a tirade against Spain and anyone else Trenton concluded was his enemy. De la Garza sat quietly waiting to respond until he was certain he could take a breath. Or until he could stand no more talk against Spain. Even DeSoto, who was accustomed to hearing such talk from rebellious citizens, stood next to the Ambassador and began to stretch his neck back and forth and bite his lip in agitation. 

“I have my men investigating,” de la Garza said flatly. 

“Do you trust these men?” Trenton snapped back. 

“With my life.”

“You had better. I tell you if the murderers are not found, I will see to it you will answer. And very personally.  I demand again by the virtue of diplomacy!  What are the names of the soldiers who found my son?”

“That is confidential Lord Trenton.”

“Spanish and their damned loyalty,” he murmured back. 

“Pardon, Ambassador?” 

“Anyone is capable of murder. You think because he can stand at attention a soldier is immune to temptation?! And there he had, right in front of him – my heir! What better way to inflict pain on your enemy than to kill the heritage! No. You cannot convince me either of these men are not guilty. I say they are. Therefore my Government says they are. I demand you place them under arrest. It will be shortly that we will find the evidence needed to have them hanged.”

“Ambassador, I understand your grief -,” the Comandante had further lost his patience and hit the desk with the palm of his hand. 

“Grief? I want justice and your French King,” the broken voice faded and he slouched back down in the chair. “He cannot give me my son back.”

“We are doing what the law allows Ambassador,” DeStoto stepped forward but his words were a hollow assurance. 

“Spanish law, or Justice? You run a great risk of war Comandante by trying my patience.”

“Two days. This I will give my word on.” 

The three men sat quietly for a minute. Trenton realized he was not going to get the answers he wanted from the government. Other channels however, those names he recalled quietly and rose to leave.

“I am sorry to have wasted your time Comandante.”

De la Garza gave a tight lipped smile and nodded as Trenton left the room in disgust. 

DeSoto shut the door and whipped around. “You’re not actually going to arrest Marcos or Cortez are you?” 

“What would you have me do? Nothing is making sense. Salazar has found nothing, Cortez comes back with reports that seem, confusing.” The Comandante did not want to offend his Capitan but it was no secret Cortez’s last report provided little evidence beyond that of showing his own impulsiveness. 

“I know. Forget those reports,” DeSoto said. 

“I have to do something.” De la Garza scratched his forehead. “Two days. Very good. I have given them two days.”

“What about the man you arrested last night? The one singing about the um, Habsburg . He seems like a suitable perpetrator .”

“Does he? I had thought of it. Could fit the story. No one would question his guilt. But to let this man die for a crime he may not have committed?”

The bowl of green apples on de la Garza’s desk caught DeSoto's eye and he ran his hand over their smooth skin. “Either him or one of our own.”

“Prudence, Capitán DeSoto. I know you do not believe Cortez capable of such a thing but who can understand the man’s loyalties. In truth, Marcos has a motive.” He waved his hands over the apples and DeSoto cautiously pulled his hand back wishing he had reached for the apple more swiftly.  

“Felipe Marcos may have some grievance with the Trenton family but he is not capable of murder.” DeSoto thought on that pious face, kneeling at every bell and never failing to recite his prayers at night. No, Marcos would not risk Hell. Not for revenge on the Trenton family anyway. 

“There we are. Do not worry. Salazar will provide us with more substantial evidence. He’s not failed me.” 

DeSoto walked to the door and stopped to turn around before opening it. “Before I go. Is it true?”

“Nothing is true until I see it,” de la Garza quipt. 

“The rumors. About an invasion.” 

“There are always rumors! You’re worried about the cannons.” He laughed and shuffled the papers on his desk. “The French have the most terrible system for organizing their documents. Worse than before!” He looked up at DeSoto. “Yes. There might be one. Next week, next year. One crisis at a time.” He broke off a small portion of crisp green apple and ate it directly off his knife. The apple’s juice ran out the corner of his mouth and he casually mumbled, “Dismissed.”

Capitán DeSoto pulled his gloves tight on his hands and swiftly opened the door. There he encountered a red faced man who was pacing the dry clay street, causing a trail of dust to gather along his boots.

“Capitán DeSoto!” Trenton called out.  

He closed his eyes and sighed. “Yes Lord Trenton. Is there something else you needed? I thought we addressed your concerns.”

Trenton fiercely began and his anger made him speak rapidly with broken sentences. He was not done fighting his point and he waved his finger in DeSoto’s face. “Cortez! One of your men Capitán. I found him spying. Yes, spying! Pathetic boy does not know how to lie very well. Said he was patrolling. On your orders! I know you would not give such a command.”

“Lord Trenton,” he answered confidently, “I did.”  

“No! This..Cortez.. He is the same one - Barton said he was! Who brought Peter home. I want him charged with murder!”

“Provide me evidence. I have no authority.”

“No authority?” Trenton spat out the words. “I think you simply refuse to arrest your own man! That idiot Alcalde directed me to speak with de la Garza.” He grit his teeth and spoke sternly, only inches away from the Capitán’s expressionless face. “Two days. If nothing is done, and done very soon DeSoto, I will appeal directly to the Crown. Both yours, and mine,” and he strode away, his temper still high. 

DeSoto had no doubt the man would leverage his influence. Was it too much to hope Letters of Recall would be on the next ship? He stood under the heat of the sun letting it caress his face and imagined the document, graced with the seal of the Empire, that would take the nuisance off his shores.  

And in a corner, just behind the Comandante’s Office, stood a bewildered Felipe Marcos taking note of every word. 

---

The arrival home of the flustered and tired Edward Trenton brought Mr Ledford rushing from the kitchens to his side. Trenton’s only wish was for some order to return to the house and he needed time to think. Think, and perhaps have a drink and assure himself that Barton would join in any scheme he devised. 

“Where’s Susan? I need to - speak with her,” Trenton marched into the Library and threw his coat. It landed on the floor with a heavy thud.  

Mr. Ledford promptly retrieved the garment and folded it neatly over his arm. He did not want to be the one to inform of the absence so intimidated he was by his employer but he was forced to respond with the truth. 

“Lord Trenton no one has seen her,” the old man’s words cracked timidly in the air.  

He stopped, his eyes in furrowed disbelief. “No one has seen her?” He almost accused Ledford of lying and raised his hand in anger, but paused when he noted the other person in the room.  “She did not return in the morning? Eva?” 

Evalianna had her back turned replacing a book on the shelf under the portrait of Clare. She closed her eyes but like a dutiful child turned to her father and gave a curtsey. She was little worried about her maid and to her own astonishment inwardly held a great hope that Susan had run away, or had been captured by pirates and stolen on some English galleon to America. Maybe her absence would give her father some peace.  Maybe he would reconcile his soul and stop his illicit and vulgar behavior. She had almost wished too, for the sake of Susan, that the girl did escape. 

Running away . She shook the thought of freedom. 

“Shall I send out a search?”

“No. If she is not back by nightfall I will go myself. Now get out.”

Mr. Ledford opened the door and Evalianna bowed her head before escaping to her room. 

---

Dusk poured over the roofs of the town and arrived at the Inn laying a shadow over the dark coach and the man hidden inside.  Trenton immerged and pulled his collar up to hide his face, ordered the borrowed coach to wait and paid the man holding the reins. The meeting that brought him here under half darkness he intended to be brief and his actions as precise as a military campaign, though he admitted it felt like he was entering the offices to lead a coup. He would exact more information than he obtained from the lawful authority of Cadiz behind these walls. Trenton knew the risk to his honor and entered with alert determination. 

Vasco raced out from behind his table and without any exchange escorted Trenton to the back of the Inn, and in front of a small wooden door knocked loudly in the prescribed pattern.

The noise and smoke from within when the door cracked open made Trenton stumble back. But he was not deturded and forcibly pushed open the door and came briskly into the room. The audience hardly registered his presence, but he recognized each of them. Here, in the most inconspicuous hole in Cadiz the powerful merchants, and those nobility who spent a generation clawing to be recognized risking each gemstone and last of their silver on the threads of their imported garments for the opportunity to rule in the New World, sat together galvanizing cutthroat deals and securing fortunes by the weight of another’s trials. 

Don Pedro sat in the chair languidly, a high blue silk collar encasing his neck, accented by Belgian lace spilling forth like some exotic species of bird extending its tail in a ritual dance to capture a mate. His eyes played tricks with the guests at the table. One moment a charming brightness and in the next, narrow, cunning, aware that others passed judgement on him behind his back. He was in an excellent mood, having educated a Count on the routes his men were tracking across the Caribbean, unaware of the new guest until he heard Trenton’s booming voice.  

“Remove them.” 

The room became silent and every face turned on Don Pedro who finally looked up.

“Now Ambassador, that isn’t very diplomatic of you,” motioning with an outstretched hand across the table. 

“Send them out,” he repeated. “This was not a suggestion.”

“Very well,” Don Pedro was not accustomed to obeying orders and yet gave a signal that emptied the room through a side door. He tapped his fingers on the table and scowled at Trenton. “Now, what is it? Speak quickly. I have exceedingly greater business that needs my attention.” 

Trenton continued to stand firmly in the middle of the room and spoke fiercely: “Where is she?” 

“Who?” Don Pedro looked astonished, although several shes appeared in his thoughts. “Oh who knows where your daughter is? Perhaps she’s finally run off with that Salazar. Would make your life simple. Agreeable,” he said calmly. 

Trenton pulled out a chair and straddled his legs over the sides. “You know who I am speaking of.” 

Don Pedro straightened the lace on the cuff of his sleeve and gathered a few scraps of paper from the middle of the table examining them for several minutes. 

Growing nervous at the thought of being ignored, Trenton leaned in breaking the awkward silence with a whisper. “I shall pay you. If you are keeping her for ransom then make your demand and I will double it.” 

“Oh Mr Trenton.” Don Pedro examined the Ambassador’s vulgar appearance and shook his head.  “You could not double any of my demands. For anything.” 

“Then you do have knowledge of her,” his shoulders fell down and he paled. 

“No.” It was an immediate reply with no trace of deception. 

“What?” 

“I said, I do not know where your whore of maid is. It is too bad. Because I had friends asking about her.” 

Trenton leaned forward and scowled. “You lie.”

“You think she loves you? She loves freedom, Edward Trenton. What she has determined in her little mind as freedom. Where is freedom for her? It is in America? Perhaps she has made her way to Portugal and a ship. Or back home - to Ireland.” 

“If you have brought her into your spider’s web I will expose this entire operation.” 

“My hands are clean. I swear it to you. If you do not find her tomorrow I will send a search out myself. I’ll demand no payment, all on my effort to find her. But Edward.” He poured the deepest of red wine into a glass and slid it over to his guest then poured a small amount for himself. “Even a thirsty horse will drink from a contaminated river.” He brought the glass to his lips. “To your health!”

---

Cortez cleared his throat and moved into Prime position, dagger in his left hand and sword in his right. His mind was racing between the instructions the Fencing Master shouted and his own plans under his Capitán’s orders.  

“Imbroccata!” 

Marcos turned his cloak twice around his left arm to cover his elbow and gripped the collar tightly. 

“All must learn to defend both body and soul!” The Fencing Master continued giving the lesson: ‘ He that presumes more knows less. That which deprives us of the truth is false.  The destreza is founded in science, and it is certain that that which they profess deprives them of it.  It necessarily follows that it has to be false, and it will be so as much as it deprives them of greater certainty.  The true destreza teaches a man to scientifically defend himself from another; that which they follow doesn’t defend them, rather it is the reason that they kill them.’

“Therefore the destreza is formed by a concise and educated morality!”

Morality.  

Cortez closed his hand tightly on the silver braided grip of the jeweled dagger. He thumbed back and forth over the carved ruby on the pommell. It was warm, jagged, and slightly loose in the setting.  He steadied his feet and closed his eyes. 

A breath in.

Out.

In. 

The tighter he gripped the dagger, the more intense the vision grew. 

‘We do not destroy what we do not understand.’ It was his father’s voice, as if he were whispering to himself in private prayer at the Altar. 

Young Cortez shuffled along the hard pew and drew closer to his mother. Her face was shadowed by a black mantilla and she looked down at him from the corner of her eye with a smile. Over her shoulder, in a niche to the left of the main gilded Altar, the boy focused his attention. The figure was tall, reaching his sword over his head and seated on a rearing horse. Imposing. Hundreds of years passing in the columns and thousands of souls arriving and departing within the fortress that stood as the Cathedral of Córdoba.

His father spoke of the legend many times. St. James appearing in a vision, a warrior on his white horse with a white banner to help Christian armies of King Ramiro I in battle that all Spaniards grew up believing in. 

But the rest of the legend his mother whispered while the bells of Mass chimed around them.  King Ramiro succeeded to the throne and the Moors demanded the reinstatement of the tribute of virgins. Ramiro denied them and prepared his army for battle. The night before, he dreamt of St. James who told him that God had chosen James as the patron for the Spanish kingdoms and under his banner and protection would lead Ramiro to victory.  

Whether he believed in the legend did not matter. His mother did, despite her own theological questions embedded in the art around her. King Ramiro put his life at the point of a sword to protect the lives he believed would be defiled if he gave them over. He doubted his own dream, yet he followed the passion that enveloped his heart and soul. 

And words from his mother and the lesson she imprinted clear in his mind cried out: 

‘When you feel the passion emerging from deep in your soul and you do not understand or know where it comes from - follow it. Protect it! That is God calling you.’

He loosened his fingers slowly and opened bleary eyes to see Marcos standing in front of him, worried. The Fencing Master gave the signal to resume and Cortez gave a hasty salute. 

“I have to warn her.”

Marcos smiled and stepped in on his left foot. “This time I truly believe you have lost your mind. A few words of a forbidden English book and you are going to march up to Para - Oh here I will show you how it goes: Good evening Senor Ambassador.” Marcos feigned two thrusts at him and began freeing the folds of his cloak. He passed the point of his sword underneath it, and tossed it on Cortez’s blade. Cortez quickly drew it away and the cape bellowed behind him. “Ah, good evening.” Marcos continued to play both voices. “Oh you are that idiot from the cemetery!” 

Cortez did not notice Marcos had made another pass of his left arm and thrust his blade between the dagger and his right arm.

“Cortez!” The master shouted and pushed himself between the men. “You have just been stabbed in the chest. Congratulations. You are dead. No.” The man kicked at Cortez’s heels and positioned his elbow. “This way. Block! Again!” 

Marcos bowed and Cortez shook his head as they returned to prime.  

“Won’t you come in? Have some...tea?” 

This time Cortez moved first and they mirrored each other’s steps until they were opposite sides of the fencing circle from where they had started. 

Marcos continued mockly with his impression. “I have word about your daughter’s safety.” Then changing it to a slightly higher tone as the voice of Trenton. “Do you? Well tell me! Yes good thing you are the bravest soldier! Here, I give my daughter.” Again Marcos lunged but foolishly took his eyes off the dagger hand of his opponent. “In your capable hands!”

Cortez pushed forward and linked his arm with Marco’s left arm and now stood face to face. “Felipe Marcos, son of Don Carlos Deigo de Malaga,” and suddenly dropped his sword and with his right hand seized the left hand of Marcos, pointing the tip of the dagger to his chest. “That is the worst English accent I have ever heard.”

Marcos looked down at the blade and laughed. “Si, si. You tell me many times.”

The lessons concluded and they moved to a secluded corner to store their swords. Marcos grabbed his arm and spoke in a panic. “Trenton thinks you killed Peter. I heard him this morning talking to Capitán. You have two days. Cortez listen! He threatened to charge you with Peter's death. I think I should start a novena for you or something. Who do you think I should petition?”

Cortez stopped and cringed. He regretted saying DeSoto’s name. “English word would be ‘buffoon’?” Obviously his reading of the aforementioned forbidden book was helping to recall what English he did know. “What evidence?”

“Ambassador’s do not need evidence. Only accusation and a powerful one.” 

“He can come get me. I have nothing to hide from that coward. How he treated her…”

Marcos twisted his sword around once more in the air, checking it’s balance. “Her father’s a bastard.” 

Cortez was now convinced. He had spent the evening mapping out the scenario and now was prepared to tell his theory. “Who else is aligned with the merchants? Who else has this power in Cadiz? I believe Don Pedro killed Peter. Not directly but somehow. He admitted to saying he would like to see them all dead. I cannot convince Alcalde without more proof.”  

Marcos stared back at Cortez. “I think you’re right.” 

There was a wildness to Cortez’s eyes. They would not hold still, a habit of searching for answers in his surroundings and Marcos recognized it. 

“Bien, what are you waiting for? Go get her!”

As Cortez readied to leave he noticed Lesaro had been standing at the edge of the training ground, watching.  He opened his navaja and stood quietly. 

“You have a word for me Lesaro?”

Lesaro did not hesitate to approach. “Cortez de Málaga, you are not as adept with your dagger as you lead others to believe.”

It was only one sentence and Cortez refused to give a verbal acknowledgement, instead he half smiled at the Officer before giving a quick flick his navaja blade into the corner of the wall making a small notch. He pushed his way past Lesaro and left. 

But Lesaro was not waiting for Cortez. He was waiting for Felipe Marcos.