30 October 2010

Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner

Just in time for Halloween, here's Warren Zevon preforming Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner. This video is from a few short months before his death and his voice is very weak. The song loses something without his deep voice, but the Late Night Band adds so much that I didn't seek an earlier version.

This song grabbed me the first time I heard it. It is a tale of heroism out of time, heroism in an unheroic age.  Zevon's Roland is not a great warrior whose sacrificial rear guard action saves a Charlemagne. He is not a Rollo who establishes Normandy as the home of wandering Vikings from whom William the Conquerer will spring. This Roland is a mercenary who is betrayed by a colleague in the pay of the CIA.

Roland's revenge, his hunting down of Van Owen and his haunting of the world's messy on-going struggles (Ireland, Lebanon, and Palestine), turn him into the personification of the "small" wars that roll unchecked across the planet. The United States is not exempt from the lure of the Thompson gun, as shown by "Patty Hearst heard the burst / of the Roland's Thompson gun/ and bought it." I particularly like the "bought it" line. Patty Hearst didn't take up arms, she bought them. Shopping, then revolution.

Once, a warrior like Roland would have been a conquering hero. Today, after his personal revenge, the hero loses his personality. Roland diffuses into a destructive force that flows from battlefield to battlefield, pointless and uncontrolled. There is no place for heroes anymore. Or maybe the heroes are just different and I don't like the new ones.


This song also appeals to my love of narrative. In six short verses, Zevon tells a story neatly and precisely. The first two lines appeal to a heroic past that is long gone.  The setting is quickly established and action described in broad, clean strokes. In one verse, Roland's "comrade" Van Owen is introduced, takes the CIA's money, and kills Roland.

The story then turns to the dead Roland, sans head, tracking down Van Owen "in Mombassa, in a barroom drinking gin." That's it for the traitor and the headless Roland comes the Flying Dutchman of the Thompson gun, haunting battlefields around the world. It is as if he has become the spirit of the nasty, internecine wars in places like Ireland, Lebanon, and Palestine.

That story could have been a book, although without vampires or werewolves it would have no hope of publication.


Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner, Warren Zevon

Roland was a warrior from the Land of the Midnight Sun
With a Thompson gun for hire, fighting to be done
The deal was made in Denmark on a dark and stormy day
So he set out for Biafra to join the bloody fray

Through sixty-six and seven they fought the Congo war
Fingers on their triggers, knee-deep in gore
For days and nights they battled the Bantu to their knees
They killed to earn their living and to help out the Congolese

Roland the Thompson gunner...

His comrades fought beside him - Van Owen and the rest
But of all the Thompson gunners Roland was the best
So the CIA decided they wanted Roland dead
That son-of-a-bitch Van Owen blew off Roland's head

Roland the headless Thompson gunner (Time, time, time
For another peaceful war
Norway's bravest son But time stands still for Roland
'Til he evens up the score)
They can still see his headless body stalking through the night
In the muzzle flash of Roland's Thompson gun
In the muzzle flash of Roland's Thompson gun

Roland searched the continent for the man who'd done him in
He found him in Mombassa in a barroom drinking gin
Roland aimed his Thompson gun - he didn't say a word
But he blew Van Owen's body from there to Johannesburg

Roland the headless Thompson gunner...

The eternal Thompson gunner, still wandering through the night
Now it's ten years later but he still keeps up the fight
In Ireland, in Lebanon, in Palestine and Berkeley
Patty Hearst heard the burst of Roland's Thompson gun
And bought it

19 October 2010

A New Gang of Four

We have yet again attracted a litter of three kittens and a very young Momma cat to our yard. I swear abandoned cats must have a website - Fre füd.com - or at least a newsletter. I'll let KS wax poetic about this new horde overrunning our peaceful lands.

Here's the kitty video.

09 October 2010

The Lastoc of the Annumpi: Swords into Plowshares (Part 18)

Finn: Do people really turn swords into plowshares?

Villens: No. The furrows are too narrow.

Finn: That makes sense.


The rising sun lit the eastern window of Maria’s study. It was fully a study again as Cupido had been moved upstairs to the attic room that had been Lemuel’s until he returned to his modified home in the grass. The rays flashed through the window to illuminate a narrow shelf that was bare save for a tiny plant in a clay pot in the center. An orb of delicate, deep purple blossoms glowed in the early morning light. When he had seen how much Maria liked the flower, Villens had returned to the river bank and dug up the plant. The skeletons of two mice and a small dog had been relocated to create space for the tiny plant. There was much more space than the plant required, for Maria, although she’d never admit it, was hoping for more. She’d even mentioned to Villens that a small greenhouse would be nice.

Maria watered the plant and listened to the young girl’s voices drifting through the open window. The day was warm for the time of year and she’d opened the window to enjoy the breeze. Although the sun was barely up, Mariel, Fiona, and Margaret were hanging laundry in the yard. Mariel was too small to reach the line, but the teenaged cousins had grown as tall as their mothers , so they did the hanging. Mariel bustled about handing damp clothes to the older  girls and chattering away furiously. Theresa would be angry to have missed the adventure, but the girls couldn’t wake up the heavy sleeping six-year old.

 Maria watched from the window, sipping a cup of tea, while the girls hung Villens’ new outfits on the line. They giggled wildly when they reached the small clothes. Mariel danced around, waving a pair of briefs in the air. “Men can have few secrets from women,” thought Maria, “when we do all the dirty jobs.” The women and girls had responded magnificently to poor Lieutenant Villens’ need for clothes. They raided secret stashes of fabric. Old trunks containing fine clothes belonging to Don Hernando that no longer fit and clothes from Rose’s late husband Declan were raided for buttons and anything else that could be used. Rose insisted that they make a few things for Lemuel as well and all agreed. It had taken them a week, but today, after lunch, the women planned to present Lieutenant Villens and Lemuel with their new clothes. 

The women choose today as they wanted Villens to have a fine outfit to wear at the opening ceremony for the rebuilt bridge. For the past two weeks he had worn the odds and ends he found around the stables and a few castoffs from Pau, the only O’Brien tall and broad shouldered enough to fit Villens.  He and Maria had burned his uniform when he found the old clothes. While he was supervising the construction of the bridge, Villens looked more like a tramp working for a meal than the engineer in charge. He saved the Pau’s old jacket and pants for his nightly walks with Maria. 

Maria wasn’t sure what to make about Villens’ haste in building the bridge. He had promised that it would take at least a month and she had been looking forward to having him around at least that long. Yet, here it was only two weeks since the battle and there was the bridge, ready for use once the ribbons on both ends were cut. The ribbons had been her father’s idea. He would cut one end and Señora de la Vega would cut the other. He would make a short speech and if he did not mention Señora de la Vega several times Maria would be astounded.

She wondered if the letter Villens received from his parents last week hadn’t contained bad news requiring him to come home. They lived just north of Puerto Zephyr on the Atlantic coast. Villens did not like to talk about his family, other than to say his mother was a good women and is father had a difficult life. Maria noticed that Villens avoided the military patrols than occasionally passed along the capitol road. He was uncertain of his status after Morales’ defeat. Perhaps his parents had been involved in Morales’ plans and were in difficult straits with the new government.

The breakfast bell rang and Maria went to the kitchen to eat. Her father and Señora de la Vega were already seated, along with Ethna and young Declan, the twins, Daniel and Michael, and Mrs. O’Brien. Margaret came running in from the yard to take a tray to Cecilia, who refused to eat in the kitchen. The other girls followed and took their seats with their families. Rose and Lucinda were busy at the stove serving the food. Once the food was served, they joined the crowded table and all began to eat. Miguel, Villens, and Lemuel had been to work before sunrise and had eaten a breakfast fixed by Miguel.

Mrs. O’Brien watched Señora de la Vega and Don Hernando while she ate. She had to admit that the Señora had brought a vital spark to Don Hernando. And who would have thought that the great lady would insist that no trouble be taken for her and that she would be pleased to eat in the kitchen? Her children were another story. The daughter would be better off drowned. A waste of life that one was. It didn’t seem like the Señora spoiled her, but she was the most helpless creature that Mrs. O’Brien had seen since her family had that mule that kept banging its head on the fence post.
She was pretty though, with bright blonde hair and a narrow, elfin face. She was small and thin with long, delicate arms and graceful hands. Helpless and pretty, Cecilia quickly commanded the O’Brien men. Only Lemuel seemed immune. At times he was even rude to her, the only time the mild-mannered Lemuel had shown any kind of anger. Villens was polite, but tried to avoid her, although he was the main object of her attention. Don Hernando was kind to the girl, but his attention was on her mother, so he rarely noticed the daughter.

Señora’s son, Father Martìn, was a serious man who was waiting for some gray to lightly dust his hair so he could become august. He spent long private hours practicing augustnicity, as he thought of it. He stayed at the Valenzuela home for two days and then left volunteering to return the personal items of Cupido’s slain companions. Mrs. O’Brien couldn’t help wondering if he’d left because he’d run out of excuses for not eating in the kitchen. He didn’t seem like a priest who doted on pastoral duty. Lucinda took an instant dislike to the cleric and expressed the hope that he would go bald before he became a Bishop. It was Lucinda’s strong belief that behind the dignified bearing and elegant looks of the priest was little more than vanity and ambition. “So he’ll be a Cardinal then,” was Rose’s response, she being the religious skeptic of the family. During her WIDLING year she was pestered by a particularly annoying Benedictine who took undue interest in counseling young widows. Pau offered to have a word with him, but she choose to employ a carefully aimed knee and he quickly lost interest in the state of her soul and her cleavage.


Ronan and Victor were due back sometime today from the capitol. They’d gone to get glass for the library and to visit their Uncle Eduardo for a few days. He’d been elected Secretary of the National Convention, but as the convention was caught in a wrangle over regional representation, he’d have plenty of time to show his nephews around. Eduardo arranged for them to be awarded medals in a private ceremony with the recently promoted Field Marshall Rojas for their actions in the ambush of Morales, which was now known as La Captura de la Zorro. Victor was offered a Lieutenancy, but he politely requested if he could discuss the matter first with his family. The Field Marshall agreed, and gave the men the medals earned by the other family members, including posthumous awards for Big James and Little Jimmy Bryant.

After the ceremony, Eduardo took Ronan and Victor to dinner and chastised Victor for not accepting the offer immediately. “I don’t want to be in the army,” said Victor simply. “I’ve had a taste of it and I don’t enjoy killing men.” Eduardo was beside himself. He’d been hinting around for a commission since he’d arrived at the capitol, but the Field Marshall insisted that he was cut out for politics, not the military. Eduardo was moody during dinner, but he brightened when the three men went to a club where they listened to music, drank wine, and danced with stylish women who were friends of Constance Rojas, the Field Marshall’s niece and Eduardo’s guest. Constance kept a short lead on Eduardo, but Victor and Ronan were popular with the girls and danced with several partners. 

The next morning, while the men were waiting for the glass to be loaded, a message came from Eduardo. He had forgotten to give them a letter for Maria. If they could stop by his office at the hotel, he would appreciate it. They did so and a servant met them at the door with the letter. He passed on Eduardo’s apology that he was in an important meeting and could not be disturbed. They shrugged, Victor tucked the letter into his jacket pocket, and they headed home. If all went well, they’d be home for dinner. They passed the long, slowl ride by comparing their dance partners and wondering what the family would say Eduardo’s guest. Maria had kept silent about Eduardo’s letter to her, and most of the family thought they were still nearly engaged. Maria certainly had no such illusions.


After breakfast, around seven-thirty, lessons started. Mrs. O’Brien, Maria, Rose, and Lucinda had put their heads together and decided that the children need some structured education. Until then, the children of the family had read whatever was around, and picked up this and that from the adults, but it was time for the little ones to have lessons. The group assessed the strengths of the various adults about the place and decided that a tutor was unnecessary. Finn, Daniel, Michael, Margaret, and Fiona were to attend lessons Monday through Friday. Mariel and Theresa, eight and six, respectively, were excused from formal lessons, but as they could already read, they were expected to read everyday. Ethna and Ronan received private instruction in Science and Math from Maria and Villens, and in Geography and History by Don Hernando. 

The faculty of the O’Brien Institute, as Finn named it, (he called it the O’Brien Correctional Institute when only the kids were around), was made up of Maria for natural science, Villens for Math and Physics, Lemuel for Literature, and Don Hernando for History and Geography. Rose suggested deportment classes for the young ladies, but Maria vetoed the idea unless the young men also attended. Mrs. O’Brien suggested that occasional lectures on an “as needed” basis had worked for Rose and Lucinda, and should be adequate for their daughters.

After breakfast, Lemuel hurried to the old library to continue his lesson on “Paradise Lost.” He was excited because he was certain he had found way to  convince the children that Satan wasn’t the hero. Don Hernando dodged Lemuel, then pulled Maria aside in the small sitting room. “I’ve been trying to have a word with you, but we’ve both been so busy,” he  said.

“That’s true. I haven’t seen you so active in years,” answered Maria.

“Well, there’s so much to do. The library building, the bridge, our guests,” he said.

“You have been spending a great deal of time with Señora de la Vega,” teased Maria.

“She has always been a charming women,” admitted Don Hernando. “I only wish that she wasn’t here under such a cloud.”

“I don’t expect Cupido to last much longer,” said Maria. “Although I did not expect him to live this long, so who knows.”

“Who knows, indeed,” said Don Hernando. “I think it would be best if he were to let go. I think his body is simply operating without purpose other than to function. It’s time for him to go, but his body drives on. It cannot last.”

“How will Señora de la Vega take his death?”

“Like a rock. She and I are in agreement about his condition,” said the Don.

“What about Cecilia?,” asked Maria.

Hernando shook his head slowly. “There is not a big enough stage for the scene she will preform. I expect at least three fainting spells and a throwing herself on the coffin at the funeral. Angelica, that is to say Señora de la Vega, has promised to lash her to a seat at the funeral to avoid a scene.”

“I hope she has a stout rope,” said Maria.

They laughed, and Maria was pleased beyond measure that her father had reentered the world. She knew that she had Señora de la Vega, Angelica, to thank for bringing him back to life.

After briefly discussing a few small household matters, Don Hernando finally arrived at the purpose of his discussion with his daughter. He wanted to know if she would like the damaged library turned into a laboratory. Maria was ecstatic. The library would give her about four times as much space. Her study was overflowing with specimens and she had almost no room for experiments. Maria then mentioned that she was thinking about a greenhouse. Don Hernando said that he would think about building a greenhouse, but he wasn’t sure if this was a good time to build one. Maria quickly withdrew the request and assured him that it was only an idea and it could surely wait.


When the kitchen emptied out, Mrs. O’Brien, Rose, and Lucinda had a quiet cup of tea before clearing the breakfast dishes. With the girls in lessons, the washing up fell on the women, but they felt it was fair exchange. This quiet time allowed the sisters and their mother to visit and to share opinions about the happenings around the busy house. Rose raised the subject of their baby brother Eduardo’s abandonment of Maria for life in the capitol. “I always thought they’d go together,” she said. “But he flew off to the capitol without a word to any of us for nearly a week.”

“And then his letter to mother didn’t even mention Maria,” added Lucinda.

“I never could see those two together,” said Mrs. O’Brien. “He wanted a society wife. Maria could be one, but then she wouldn’t be Maria anymore, would she”

“Why do you think she spent time with Eddie?,” Rose asked.

“Lonely, I suppose,” said Lucinda and Mrs. O’Brien agreed.

“Well, she’s not lonely any more,” said Rose.

“Not with Lieutenant Villens around, that’s for sure,” replied Lucinda.

“They make a charming couple,” said Rose. “So tall and elegant. He has such lovely manners.”

“And such broad shoulders,” said Mrs. O’Brien.

“And he will soon have lovely clothes to match!,” laughed Lucinda.

“Indeed he shall,” said Mrs. O’Brien. “You girls outdid yourself.”

“You should have seen the little ones,” said Rose. “I do believe every one of them has a crush on Villens. If we asked them to draw a picture of a prince and princess, all the princesses would be self-portraits and all the princes would look like Villens.” They all laughed. Rose sliced pieces of cake. The dishes could wait.

“Well, it’s only fair,” said Mrs. O’Brien. “Maria has charmed the men in this family since she was a young girl. First all my boys were in love with her. Then Victor and Ronan were entranced. Have you seen the way Finn stares at her? The twins can barely talk when she is in the room. Even little Declan ‘s eyes widen when she is nearby. Your father said she was the loveliest young thing that wasn’t named O’Brian.” The sisters smiled at the careful compliment and the recollection of their father.

“I wonder that Lemuel isn’t under her spell,” said Lucinda teasingly.

“You be quiet, Lucinda,” said Mrs. O’Brien, who watched out for Rose. Lucinda was apt to tease a bit roughly and Rose didn’t always know how to defend herself. This time though, Rose was ready.

“I doubt he even notices her,” she said reaching into her pocket. She pulled out a small rose delicately carved from oak salvaged from the rebuilding project. “Lemuel made this for me. We have been seeing quite a bit of each other. He’s a special man and I have reason to suspect he thinks I’m special also.”

Mrs. O’Brien and Lucinda admired the carving, which was wonderfully executed, and wondered how they hadn’t noticed Lemuel’s interest in Rose.


Lemuel ended his lesson early when he noticed that the twins were doodling portraits of a heroically muscled Satan rising majestically from the Lake of Fire. He was shaking a massive fist at Heaven, where pathetic angels in weedy robes peeked out from behind fluffy clouds. Finn also contributed to the difficulty by asking awkward questions about the idea of it being better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.  As a younger brother, he saw the point. Margaret was puzzled why God hadn’t simply destroyed Satan and wondered if was only English angels that fight. Lemuel considered abandoning the poem and moving on to A Pilgrim’s Progress as an antidote, but decided that would be horopecic.

When Don Hernando heard the children leaving their lesson, he slipped in to catch Lemuel. He had also been trying to talk with Lemuel privately for quite a while, but having houseguests and a construction project on-going had kept them both occupied. He asked Lemuel why he looked so glum and Lemuel explained his difficulty. “It’s the fault of the Protestant King murderers,” said Hernando dismissively. “What can expect< If you want heros, read the story of El Cid.” Lemuel agreed to consider the idea.

“What I really wanted to talk about is your future, Lemuel,” said the Don settling into a chair by the window. “Come sit with me for a few minutes and tell me of your plans.”

Lemuel pulled a chair over to the Don and stared out the window for a while. When he began, he spoke haltingly, unaccustomed to sharing his thoughts. “I have been thinking about the future, that’s true,” he began. “As you know, I returned to my home in the grass, but it’s not the same. I found a peaceful refuge there for years, but it nearly cost me my mind and my life. Thanks to your kindness and ... the kindness of others... I have been drawn back into the world. My rebirth was a bloody one ... “

“As was mine,” interjected Don Hernando.

“... but perhaps that is what was required. I don’t know. But I do know that I want to be a part of the world, here, with people I have come to respect, to admire, ... to love.”

“I’m pleased to hear this, my boy,” said Don Hernando beaming. “Particularly as it fits in with my idea of how to repay you for actions in defense of my home and family.” Lemuel shook his head and waved a hand disparagingly.  “No, no, you risked your life,” insisted Don Hernando. “That is a debt that cannot be waved away. It is a debt of honor that I will repay gladly.”

Lemuel was about to speak, but Don Hernando held up a silencing finger. “I have thought about what a man needs to be happy. He needs satisfying work, an income the frees him from worry, and a family to love. I would like to give you the first two and put myself at your service in any way to assist with the last.” Lemuel seemed to be struggling between withdrawing and interest. Don Hernando reached out and patted him on the knee. “It’s alright. I know this a great deal to consider, but it’s time for you to take on responsibilities. You know this.  You said as much.” Lemuel nodded briskly in agreement. 

“Here is my plan,” said Don Hernando. “I would like you to be my secretary with the primary function of relocating my Annumpi collection to the new library. I will pay you forty reals per annum, paid quarterly. I am willing to advance you to ten reals. I will also do whatever I can to help you and Rose make a life for yourselves, starting with use of a cottage I will build for you and the children.” Having, he thought, neatly wrapped up Lemuel’s future, Don Hernando sat back and awaited Lemuel’s answer.

The mention of Rose in such a matter of fact way caused Lemuel’s emotions to surge and nearly overwhelm him. He thought that he had kept his feelings for Rose hidden from everyone, even Rose. Especially Rose. If Don Hernando could see through him, did everyone know his secret? Had he made a fool of himself before everyone?

Don Hernando could see his distress and stepped in to rescue him. “You were not indiscreet, son. Angelica, Señora de la Vega, spotted it. She has a sense about these things. I thought that you were in love with Maria, but the Señora laughed at me and told me I was being an old fool.” Hernando smiled when he remembered the chastisement, as he always did when remembering time spent with Angelica. “She told me that any woman with a brain could see that you were in love with Rosa. Are you?,” Don Hernando asked.  “If it helps, Angelica is confident that Rose in love with you.”

“Yes,” was all that Lemuel could say. He looked terrified.

“Does she know?,” asked Don Hernando.

Lemuel thought about the Señora’s remark. She must know, he now realized, for Rose had brains. “I have not told her in so many words,” he said, thinking of the carved rose.

“Well, it’s about time,” said Don Hernando rising to feet and clapping onto Lemuel’s uninjured hand. He pulled him over to the window and began to point out plots of land. Lemuel knew the Don was speaking, but he couldn’t understand a word. He struggled to gather himself and push down the panic welling up inside him. Being in the world was difficult.


When Rose left the kitchen, the door had barely closed before Lucinda blurted out, “Lemuel? I know Rose has a soft spot for the wounded and orphaned, but that Lemuel is a strange one.”

Mrs. O’Brien answered, “He has had a strange life, but that is not the same as being a strange one. He has come out of his shell since the attack. He’s trying. What more can one ask?”

“Where will they live?,” asked Lucinda. “Don Hernando has kindly allowed her and her children to live here since Declan was lost, but it’s an imposition on the Don’s generosity to live here as a married family.”

“Like you and Miguel,” replied Mrs. O’Brien, irritated at her daughter’s questions.

“We work for Don Hernando in exchange for rent,” said Lucinda stiffly.

“Which is your business, and I don’t see Rose questioning it,” said Mrs. O’Brien in a tone that indicated the matter was concluded.

“What shall they live on?,” Lucinda continued, still sMartìng from the mention of her housing arrangements. “He doesn’t have a penny.”

“Remind me again how much money Miguel brought to your marriage,” her mother replied. It was up to Lucinda to either absorb the blows or drop the subject.

“The children,” Lucinda said, switching areas of attack. “What about the children?” 

“Margaret fusses over him like a mother hen when she isn’t dreaming about Villens. Declan follows him around begging for stories. Ethna is practically a woman and will be happy with anyone who makes Rose happy. I see no problems with the children.”

Lucinda opened her mouth the speak, but Mrs. O’Brien cut her off. “Lemuel is a comencho. As for the rest of Rose’s family, anyone who objects to Lemuel will answer to me.”

Lucinda closed her mouth and put away the pot she had finished drying. She had to admit that Lemuel was a good man. She had to.


Ethna and Ronan’s studies were interrupted by the cries of the youngsters tearing across the lawn toward the stables. “Looks like Lemuel dismissed the little miscreants early again,” sighed Villens. “That’s enough for now,” he said, “Although I’d like it if you two would spend some time working on the proofs I assigned you. You are escaping early, you know. We’ll work through them tomorrow.” The cousins picked up their slates and slipped down the back stairs to avoid the crush of the kids on the main stairs.

“Let’s take a walk by the river,” said Ronan. “It’s a nice day.” Ethna agreed and they stashed their slates in an unused stall before walking across the gravel of the stable yard to the path that lead to the river. They passed the bridge and waved to Pau who was attaching a ribbon across the span of the bridge on the far side. A matching ribbon blocked access to the bridge on the near side. After lunch, a ceremony was planned to open the bridge. Don Hernando had insisted on the ribbon cutting even though most of the others thought it was a silly idea. The kids, however, where excited and had even formed a makeshift band to play at the event. Ethna and Ronan walked for a while, soaking up the warm sun and watching the river bounce over the rounded rocks. It was hard to believe that this tiny river, not much more than a stream, had been so destructive just a few short weeks ago.

When they reached the spot where Villens had found the flower, Ethna asked Ronan if he thought much about the battle. Ronan and his younger brother Finn had been at the bridge when Morales’ men had attacked. Ronan said, “I don’t like to talk about it.”

“Me either,” said Ethna. “But I think we need to.”

Ronan and Ethna were born two months apart and were so close as children that they were called the Twins, until Daniel and Michael came along with a better claim to the title. As they grew older, they survived a crush on one another, and when that faded they remained close, closer than most brothers and sisters. 

“It was awful,” said Ronan staring straight ahead. “We saw the soldiers ride up and I thought they were going to ask for food or a drink, but they demanded we send the ferry across. Someone quickly pulled the rope from the block which made the soldiers angry. The pulled their pistols and fired. Two of Miguel’s cousins were hit. Finn and I dragged them to safety behind a barricade we’d built. Pistol balls flew all around us.”

“When we made it to the barricade, shots started from behind those big rocks across the road from the bridge. It was just like Big James had said it would be. Finn and I were the only ones who could fire a rifle. We tried to shoot, but the musket fire had us pinned down. I could see through a crack in the barricade that a soldier was shinnying across the guide rope to get at the  ferry. I slipped my rifle through the slot and killed him.”

“The solders on the bank started screaming and firing round after round into the barricade. We hunkered down and waited it out. Then the muskets stopped firing. Finn and I peeked out and saw the soldiers with their backs turned toward us looking at the rocks. We took aim on two of them and killed them. Big James and Little Jimmy popped up from behind the rocks. They must have killed the men behind the rocks and taken the dead men’s loaded guns, because they quickly shot four of the soldiers. The few that were left scattered. Big James waved his hat to me and disappeared. That was the last I saw of him or Little Jimmy.”

Ethna listened without interruption. When he finished, she told him her story. He too didn’t interrupt, but he took her hand and held it tight. When she finished they held each other while they cried. Ethna felt exhausted, but safe, protected by Ronan’s strong arms. The panic she’d struggled to hold back slipped away. The memories remained, and her stomach still tightened when she thought of the guns in the library, but she could control the panic now. 


Villens followed Lemuel’s lead, also dismissing the children early. They would have a half-hour or so before the ceremony and he would have a chance to recover from a severe headache. Why could the children not see that four different answers to an addition problem meant that at least three of them were wrong? He enjoyed working with Ronan and Ethna, but the younger ones were a complete mystery to him. Even when counting on their fingers they came to the wrong answer. How in God’s name could three children subtract five from twelve and get thirteen?

He decided to seek adult company as an antidote to the children. Pau was hanging Don Hernando’s ribbons for the ribbon cutting ceremony. Villens changed into a new suit of clothes and headed down to the bridge. He waved at Pau and they met in the center of bridge. Villens stamped his boot in the exact center, as he always did, and was pleased when a solid thump reverberated from his bridge.

They talked about the bridge and complimented each other on the design and the speed of construction. Then Villens asked Pau if he knew of a place to get iron, a good quantity of iron. Pau thought that the shipyard could supply some, but the mine was the best bet. Villens wondered if the mine would sell iron to them and Pau said they would if Señora de la Vega told them to as she was the majority shareholder. Villens grinned and held out a sketch for Pau to see.

“How would you like to build that?,” he asked.

Pau grinned. “I’d need Finn and Ronan. Victor might even have to help, but, yes, I’d like to build that.”

“Well then let’s build it, but keep it to yourself for a bit,” said Villens. “I’ve got a few loose ends to tie up.”


“Oh, mother, why I must attend this silly bridge opening nonsense?” The petulant whine was immediately identifiable as Cecilia’s trademark verbal sneer. “I’m sure the bridge is quite nice, but it is just a bridge. My only interest in the bridge is that it will allow me to return home more quickly than fording the river.”

“Do try and be human, dear,” said Señora de la Vega, wondering once again what a horrible mother she must have been to have given life to Cecilia and Cupido. One might be an excusable accident, but two? She sighed and wondered how long her boy was going to hang on. He never did know what was good for him. “How callous I have have grown,” she thought. Then she considered the messes that she and her husband had pulled the foolish boy out of time after time. The only lesson he seemed to learn was that he always got pulled out of his messes. Not this time. He’d finally gone too far.

“You’re not even listening to me, mother,” said Cecilia, notching her whine up an octave. 

“I was praying for your brother, dear,” she said sweetly.

“But what about me!,” Cecilia objected. “He hasn’t even regained consciousness. You and the old man ....”

“Don Hernando Valenzeula,” interjected the Señora irritably.

“Yes, yes. Your latest conquest. The two of you dragged me away from home with the story that Cupido was dying. It’s been nearly three weeks. Either he isn’t going to die or he’s going to do it incredibly slowly. Either way, I need Eloise here, now! I simply cannot continue without a maid. These servants of the Don’s are incompetent and insubordinate. If that Ethie girl talks back to me again I shall slap her.” Cecilia halted her tirade to take a breath.

“I wouldn’t do that, dear. Ethna killed two men in your brother’s idiotic assault on this house,” said Señora de la Vega casually. “You must realize that the O’Briens are not servants. I suppose they might have been once, but since the death of the Don’s wife, they have become his family. This house is like a large farmhouse in the country with a huge family living in and around it. If you would join us for meals, you would understand how things are.”

“I will never eat with the servants in the kitchen. What if my friends’ found out? How would I explain it to Jorge’s family? Why they might call off the marriage! Oh this hair! I must have Eloise to manage my hair. I simply must have her!” Cecilia tossed a silver plated brush onto the dressing table and began to sob dramatically. She carefully tilted her head to and fro so the tears rolled evenly down one cheek and then the other.

“You are getting married soon, aren’t you, dear?,” asked the Señora, who had closed her eyes and was rubbing her temples with her fingertips. “You could always get pregnant, you know. To speed things up.”

“Mother!,” exclaimed Cecilia.

“Yes, of course not, you might ruin your lovely dress,” said the Señora. I have to get those two married, she thought. Such pretty things without a serious thought between them. When this is over, I must speak with his mother. Perhaps the Don will speak to his father. I will waive the dowry. I will pay the dowry, if needed. 

She looked at the clock and saw that it was time to go down and meet Don Hernando for the ribbon cutting ceremony. She glanced in the mirror and saw a woman in her late fifties looking back at her. Considering she had turned seventy in May, she was satisfied. She would have preferred her late thirties, but, but a miracle was unlikely given that she wasn’t on the best of terms terms with the Church. “Come, dear,” she said to Cecilia. “We mustn’t keep everyone waiting.”

“I have a headache,” announced Cecilia, switching to petulance. “I’m going to lie down.”

“Do, dear,” the Señora replied. “I’m sure all that dressing and hair brushing has exhausted you.” The Señora had no difficulty nonnicing her family when they practically begged for it.


Don Hernando had seen Ethna and Ronan and he suspected what they were talking about. He knew that they both were shaken up by their recent experiences. He liked Ronan, but he wasn’t close to him. Pau and Vera, his parents, would take care of him. Ethna, however, was another story. He recognized so much of Maria in her and so much of Isabella, Maria’s mother, as well. When her father died, Maria and Don Hernando had reached out to her. Rose was at a loss to help her oldest daughter. Ethna was so different from her. Maria remembered the loss of her mother and soon the two were inseparable. The Don had come to think of Ethna as his other daughter. When she was little, he would call her his cuckoo and tell her that she was his daughter dropped in someone else’s nest.

When Ethna left Ronan to return to the house, Don Hernando leaned out of the window and called to her. She joined him in the sitting room and he asked how she was doing. She said she was fine and he didn’t pursue the matter. Instead he decided to talk about the future.

“Villens tells me that you were quite interested in the plant he stumbled upon,” said the Don.

“Oh, yes,” she replied, eager to change the subject. “I think plants are fascinating. Maria and I would like go collecting soon. Villens has said he will accompany us.”

“That sounds like an excellent idea,” said the Don. “But I’d like you to consider something else.” Ethna leaned forward in her chair and focused on Don Hernando with undisguised interest. Don Hernando always admired how she would never play the coquette. 

“Would you like to assist Lemuel to relocate and catalogue the library?,” he asked. “You would, of course, be paid for your efforts.”

“I would love to!,” Ethna cried and she threw her arms around Don Hernando. He laughed and hugged her in return.

“Of course, once the repairs are made you could shift over to the new lab and assist Maria. There may even be something to do with plants later on,” the Don added.

“I can’t wait,” Ethna said. “Does Maria know?”

Before he could answer, Señora de la Vega entered the room and warned that they’d be late for the ceremony if they didn’t leave right away. Ethna leapt out of her chair and laced her arm through the Señora’s. Angelica peeked over Ethna’s shoulder at Don Hernando who was beaming at Ethna’s excitement. The Señora shrugged and let Ethna guide her to the bridge, all the while listening to Ethna talk excitedly about her plans for the lab and the library.


Everyone gathered around the rebuilt bridge in the unseasonal warmth and bright sunshine. Pau made a very short speech about how he’d never been so proud of everyone as he was when working on this fine bridge. Mrs. O’Brien talked about the bridge that was there when she was a child and how it swayed and bounced when you rode a horse over it. Villens thanked Don Hernando for allowing him to design the bridge, all the O’Briens for their tireless efforts, and Maria for inspiring him to complete the bridge without accidents. Everyone laughed and applauded, but Maria was uncertain what Villens was getting at. She was sure that something was going on, but she didn’t know what. Maria didn’t like the feeling. Not knowing annoyed her.

Don Hernando had pulled out two pairs of scissors from his jacket pocket when Rose and Lucinda called to him to wait. The children’s band had not performed yet. The Don apologized for his oversight and returned the scissors to his pocket. Little Ossian stepped out of the tangle of children. It’s possible he was pushed. At four years old and missing his front teeth, he was chosen to introduce the band by Margaret, in a callous appeal to cuteness. The assembled crowd hushed as the band pushed and shoved and sorted themselves out. Ossian stood calmly in the front of the band sucking his thumb. When the band was ready Margaret hissed at Ossian to go on and introduce them.  He turned to look at her, having completely forgotten what to say. She loudly whispered, “Ladies and Gentleman - the O’Brien Musical Academy Performing Band.” Ossian pulled his thumb out of his mouth and said, “Ban.” Daniel and Michael began to pound on iron pots and the performance was on.

No one could agree on what they’d played, but everyone agreed the children played loudly. Since the instruments were homemade, percussion dominated, although the older girls had fashioned wind instruments from dried reeds. Ossian joyfully clanged a triangle Pau had made for him. When the piece wound down, and the twins had been silenced by the removal of their ladles, it was agreed that musically there was room for improvement, but the band won the Spirit Award. The children cheered and the adults applauded.   Maria noticed that Finn was absent. She hoped he wasn’t upset about being caught between the children and adults, as he so often was.  He would’t be fifteen forever, she thought.

When the excitement of the performance died down, Don Hernando stepped to the ribbon. “I will not make a speech,” he announced and the cheers drowned out the rest of his words. He waited for the noise to die down and then resumed. “I would like ask my good friend Señora de la Vega to come up here with me.”

Señora de la Vega looked startled. She clearly had not been expecting this. She carefully set down Ossian, who had climbed into her arms after the performance, and walked over to Don Hernando. “Here I am,” she said. “What should I do?”

The Don smiled at her and explained. “This bridge connects our side of the river to yours, Señora. Sometimes that has been good, sometimes not. Now when I see the this bridge, I see a connection between you and I, and that makes me very happy.” He handed a pair of scissors to her and Señora de la Vega cut the ribbon on the near side. The two walked across the bridge and cut Don Hernando cut the other ribbon. The Señora applauded and turned to him a whisper something. The Señora spoke so softly that only Lucinda heard, but that was enough. “I hope you often use this bridge to come and see me, Hernando,” she said and she kissed him.

Cecilia was watching the ceremony from her window through mother of pearl opera glasses. When her mother kissed the old man in front of everyone, she started to faint. Then she remembered she was alone and muttered, “Damn,” with easy familiarity. "This is so smied."

In the silence that followed the kiss, a loud thwock resounded from the other side of the house. It sound like an axe cutting wood. Everyone was torn between asking about the sound and wanting to hear the whispered conversation on the bridge between the Don and the Señora. Another thwock seemed to shake everyone from their dazed state. “Don Hernando?,” asked Villens. “Shall we?”

“Yes, I think so,” said Hernando. “Please lead the way, Villens.” 

“Follow me, everyone, if you please,” said Villens and the race was on. 

The children didn’t wait to follow anyone. They heard the noise and were homing in on it. Ronan and Ethna scooped up Ossian and his six year old sister Theresa and they joined the mad rush. The adults waited for Don Hernando and Señora de la Vega to make their way, arm in arm, to the head of the crowd and then they fell in behind them. Lucinda and Rose held back to talk about the shocking kiss. Mrs. O’Brien shocked them further when she commented that Samuel Rodriguez, the cobbler, had been showing his interest in her. He’d molded her shoes specially to fit her bunions. “Maybe word this’ll give him a kick in the rump and get him moving,” she said. “I won’t be well-preserved forever you know.”

As the crowd rounded the house, Finn came into view. He was pounding a large wooden stake into the ground. He’d already set numerous stakes and when he set this final one, he looked over his work, comparing it to a drawing on a piece of paper. Satisfied with his work, he shoved the paper in his pocket and rested the hammer on his shoulder. Villens stepped into the staked area and raised his arms to quiet the crowd. Everyone stopped talking and waited for Villens to explain. Don Hernando nodded at him to go on, so he began

“Friends, I have a special surprise to share with you today. It is my pleasure to announce that you are looking at the site of the finest greenhouse in New Spain. Finn has very exactly placed pegs where the corners of the building will stand.”

Maria gasped. The greenhouse would be huge. Villens was looking straight at her and she felt like he was talking to her alone.

“Don Hernando has asked me to design it. Señora de la vega has kindly offered to share the cost. Pau and Miguel and their crews will build it. Maria will fill it with beauty and science,” he paused then seemed to remember where he was. “Don Hernando, Señora de la Vega, I cannot thank you enough for this opportunity. May I suggest the greenhouse be named the Angelica de la Vega Botanical Gardens?” 

Señora de la Vega blushed and tried to wave away the suggestion. Don Hernando laughed and said, “I had already decided to honor the Señora in such a manner. The only question is her surname.”

Maria started clapping and everyone joined in. Señora whispered to the Don, “Oh Hernando, not here, not on front of everyone. We must talk. We’re  not children. Be sensisible.”

Don Hernando silenced the crowd with a raised hand and said, “It seems I have spoken out of turn. We will choose a name later. Now let us eat and drink an declare the rest of the day a holiday.” With this, the freed children roared. Their teachers clapped only a little less uproariously.

“The food is set up in yard,” called Mrs. O’Brien. “Let’s get to it.”


Villens and Maria found themselves at a table with Rose and Lemuel. They ate and talked and admired the wooden rose Lemuel had carved. Villens suggested that perhaps Lemuel could carve some decorations for the greenhouse.  Maria told Rose how Villens had allowed her to think that he was rushing the work on the bridge so that he could leave, while all the time he was plotting to convince her father to build one.  She asked if Rose had known about the greenhouse. Rose said that only the Don and Villens must have known or everybody would have known.

While she was talking with Rose, Maria kept glancing at Lemuel. She knew that she needed to apologize for her treatment of him. He had proven himself to be a good man and he clearly was attached to Rose. “Lemuel, do you have a minute?,” she asked.

He had been listening to Villens tell a story about his family, but he turned to her and said, “Of course, Miss Velenzeula.”

“Please call me Maria,” she said. “I have taken the liberty of calling you Lemuel for so long, it is the right thing to do.”

“Maria, it is then. What may do for you, Maria?” Lemuel asked. Rose and Villens observed the scene intently.

“If you are free tomorrow, how would like to come with Villens and myself to investigate that mound where you found the Annumpi artifact?,” Maria asked. “Perhaps Rose can get away also.”

Lemuel smiled broadly. “I think I can get away. I have a very understanding boss. What about you, Rose?,” he asked. 

“I’d love to. I’ll make a picnic lunch.”

“Isn’t anyone going to invite me?,” asked Villens.

“No, I don’t think so,” said Maria. “After your little game. I’m ordering you to come. Wear old clothes and bring a shovel. Lemuel’s hand is too weak to dig and I won’t do it all myself.”

“Latrine duty it is, ma’am,” said Villens snapping off a professional salute. The couples laughed and then smiled at each other when they realized that they were couples.


Angelica and Hernando had slipped away from the party and found a quiet spot on a side porch overlooking the kitchen garden. They sat on two battered, wicker chairs and sipped cider from champagne flutes. “You should have waited before making your dramatic semi-proposal, Hernando,” Angelica said.

“Is this a rejection then,” Hernando asked.

“Was there a offer to reject?,” she replied. “I know that you and I have been around, Hernando. We have married and had families and buried a spouse. But that does not mean that marriage is an inconsequential thing to be decided on a whim.”

“I’m serious, Angelica,” Hernando said taking the flute out of her hand and holding her hands in his.

She winced and said, “Be easy. I have arthritis in both hands.”

He apologized and loosened his grip.

“I think you may have gotten caught up in the drama of the moment,” she said. “I think you have been working very hard to help everyone over the terrible events that brought us together again. I worry that you are proposing to help me through Cupido’s death which cannot be far off. We have known each such a very long time. If you hadn’t been so shy and I hadn’t been such a shameless flirt, who knows, we might be an old married couple with grandchildren and ....”

“Would we have had Cecilia?,” Hernando asked.

“I doubt it,” said Angelica. “She is exactly like my mother-in-law. How that woman could SPHINGE.”

“You’re right, Angelica,” said Hernando. “I have tried to make things right. It’s my duty as the head of the family. I have mourned too long. It’s unseemly. However you are wrong to think I’ve proposed to you to help you. My inept proposal, which I shall deliver properly, I assure you, my proposal was to help me. Violence shocked me into action, but you have brought me back to life.”

Angelica looked at him and saw the nervous nineteen-year old who wanted to ask her to dance, but could get the words out. She blinked away the memory of how she’d laughed at him. “You’ll have to do propose properly,” Angelica said. “ And that includes a nurse for Cecilia.”

“I will ask you father for your hand this very evening,” said the Don. “He’s buried at St. Ludens’, is he not? Up front, near the altar?”

“You’ve always been an idiot,” Angelica said. “Now give me kiss before any of our nosy children track us down.”

05 October 2010

The Lastoc of the Annumpi: The Butcher's Bill and First Steps to Recovery (Part 17)

The Butcher’s Bill and First Steps to Recovery

The O’Briens and the Bryants had never expected violence on the scale of the ambush. They had worried that Cupido and his friends would strike at them again, but they all expected the mess to cool off after a few fist fights. They were shocked when Cupido’s silk stocking crowd burned down Juan’s house. That raised the stakes. They all knew that if any one of them retaliated by burning down a house or barn belonging to the silk stockings, they would be hunted down and hung.  So they waited and made sure that they travelled in groups and kept an eye on each other’s home. 

The wiser heads in the families had looked to Maria to work things out. She had access to the homes of the silk stockings. She was the one who could walk in the front door and talk to the heads of the families. Mrs. O’Brien did what she could. She talked to the small farmers who worked the land of the silk stockings. She sat in the kitchens and kitchen gardens and gathered information. She knew which of the silk stocking sons was dangerous and which were all talk. Several times she heard of planned raids, and Pau and men were able to head off the trouble. No punches were thrown, but Pau was concerned that more of the men were carrying weapons these days.

Eduardo O’Brien had seen the violence coming. He had argued that this fight wasn’t about Maria and Cupido, it was about the death of Old Spain and the creation of an empire in New Spain. He talked of Napoleon and the war in Europe. He said that now was the time to break away from a dead monarchy and join the future. Soon England would fall and all Europe would be ruled by the Emperor. Then he would turn his attention to the New World, first to New Spain, and then to America. 

When Cupido’s elegant thugs struck, Eduardo thought that the opening act had begun. First a Republic to sweep aside the corrupt aristocracy and the priests, then the Emperor to restore order. Eduardo had made these arguments time and again in the Paris Club in Port Seguro, the capital. He had joined with like minded young men from across the country to organize a coordinated response when the moment came. They had negotiated with the British to buy weapons. Eduardo had studied the American war and decided that the new Baker rifles and new tactics would allow these small groups to join with a small part of the military and take control of the country. The Rojas family and other members of the Paris Club prepared for revolution.

When the Revolution occurred, it was not the Paris Club, but the aristocracy itself that lead it. The old families saw that Spain could not stand up to Napoleon. They knew that Spain had been propped up for years by the wealth of New Spain. For enough of these families, and Cupido’s silk stocking crowd came from these people, it was time to break away and form a great power in New Spain. They must gather their strength before the Emperor came to swallow them. If that meant working with the British pirates, so be it. Napoleon would soon deal with the British. Besides, General Morales was the equal of any French Field Marshall Napoleon might send. 

The plan laid by Morales and circumvented by Rojas was intended to result in General Morales being named King of Southern New Spain. After the ambush and the other actions taken simultaneously by Paris Club groups across the country, General Rojas took command of the army and the new country. Many clamored for him to take a crown as well, but he refused. He was a revolutionary of an older type. He wanted to be the Cincinnatus of Southern New Spain. He looked to George Washington as his model. He would not be King or Emperor.  Instead he ordered that a convention be called in Porto Seguro to design a government. He sent a copy of the United State Constitution as a model and three divisions of troops to protect the delegates. He sent troops to all the major cities to prevent rioting and settled his main army at the mining camp. They built a military camp there and laid in supplies for the winter. 

The conflict between the Valenzulas, O’Briens, and Bryants on one hand, and Cupido and the silk stockings on the other was caught up in these complex political struggles. Eduardo was involved directly, but his family was pulled in by necessity. They knew that if Morales won, Cupido, a leading figure among old monarchist families, would be an important man in the new government. He would then be able to use the force of the government against them. They weren’t sure what today’s explosion of violence would bring, but they knew that Morales was dead, as were most of Cupido’s gang, and he lay seriously wounded in Maria’a makeshift hospital. They would settle for these things for now.


The family gathered in the kitchen as it inevitably did in times of emergency. Pots simmered while breads and cakes cooled on the window sill. Coffee and tea stood ready. People wandered over to the stove and served themselves. They were waiting until Mrs. O’Brien, Lucinda, and Miguel returned from the safe house. The three returned and Mrs. O’Brien immediately went into the library. She quickly returned and told Lucinda to go back to the safe house and stay with the children. Miguel went with her and said he would stay also. Mrs. O’Brien told them that a messenger would be sent tomorrow when the library and grounds were cleaned up. They all knew there were plenty of supplies to last another day, and the children would love the adventure.

Finn and Ronan returned home from the ferry crossing and went to help remove the bodies and clean the library. Pau’s wife, Vera, didn’t want her young son Finn to go, but Pau insisted that both his sons see this side of war. He didn’t like war and he didn’t want his sons’ heads filled with notions of military gallantry. Pau had the feeling his sons would see too much of war in their lives. 

The boys went to the library and saw the smashed window, the blood splashed wildly about, the holes burnt in the carpet and the furnishings by the smoldering wads from the pistols and guns. In the yard they saw the ripped and torn bodies, their limbs bent in unnatural angles. First Finn, then Ronan vomited on the lawn. Pau handed them clean rags to wipe their  faces, then passed them a jug of wine to clear their throats. After they regained possession of themselves, the young men helped Pau load the bodies into a wagon.

Don Hernando had ordered that the bodies be removed. He didn’t want them buried on Valenzuela land. Pau took the bodies to a place near the ambush site, a place out of sight of the Don’s house. There the three O’Brien men buried the six bodies. They covered the graves with stones and placed wooden crosses at their heads. Pau knew that Eduardo would have objected to the crosses, but the dead men’s families would never forgive him if he had failed to place crosses at the heads of the graves. The next day, Pau would gather the personal belongings of each man and take them to their families. He would include a map to the burial site, and expected that the families would come and claim their son’s bodies. After the burial, Pau lead the way back to the house. They removed the blood soaked carpets and furnishings, but there was too much to do in one night. The men boarded the window and locked the doors.


Maria and Ethna joined Mrs. O’Brien and the others in the kitchen. Maria reported that Cupido wasn’t doing well. She had done all she could do, but he hadn’t regained consciousness. Lemuel was also in the clinic. He had been shot through the hand, but hadn’t realized it until the fight was over. Maria had dressed the wound and he was resting. Fergus had a sword wound to the calf, but it wasn’t serious. The Sanchez brothers, Manuel’s brothers, who had been shot while defending the ferry crossing, were doing fine. Finn and Ronan were taking them home in the wagon. Maria asked if there was any word from the Bryants about injuries across the river. Mrs. O’Brien shook her head. Everyone was aware that now that she knew everyone nearby was fine, she wanted to know about her brother, Big James. 

Pau returned to the kitchen and asked about the Bryants. From a distance, he’d seen the confused fight at the barricade they manned. He saw that the barricade had held, but he hadn’t seen what had happened. If the Bryants didn’t send a messenger soon, he would go and find out for himself. He went to the stove and ladled out a bowl of stew. He ate it while pacing the kitchen.  He couldn’t seem to sit still. Rose entered the kitchen from the clinic. She went to wash her hands. She had changed Cupido’s bandages, but he was still unconscious. Lemuel was on his way to the kitchen, she reported. Not for the first time, Pau considered slipping into the clinic and killing Cupido. Once again he shoved the thought away. He wondered if he would continue fighting the thought.

Victor stepped into the kitchen and walked over to the stove to get some food. A stranger carrying two large bags followed him in. The man introduced himself as Dr. Roberto Suarez from the mine. “Senora de la Vega sent a messenger saying that you had injured people here and needed help. Here I am,” he said simply. Maria was overjoyed. She leapt to her feet and led the doctor to the clinic. Soon Fergus limped in, followed by Lemuel. Mrs. O’Brien ordered them to sit down and went to get them food. Meanwhile the doctor set to work on Cupido.

Lt. Villens knocked at the kitchen door. He was invited in, although his bloody uniform made him seem a candidate for the clinic rather than the kitchen. The Lieutenant introduced himself and asked for Maria. Mrs. O’Brien explained that she was busy in the clinic, and suggested that he join them in the kitchen and eat with them. She had heard of his role in defending Maria and the house. After thanking her for her kind offer, the Lieutenant asked if he could have writing paper, a pen, and ink. He must a write a letter to his comrade’s family. The wounded cavalryman had bled to death from his wounds. Ethna went upstairs and brought down her writing box for Lieutenant Villens to use. Finn and Ronan volunteered to carry the body across the river and bury in with the others. The Lieutenant gratefully accepted their offer.

The family sat quietly, talking softly and eating while the Lieutenant wrote his somber letter. There was a lull while Maria and the doctor examined Cupido. Ethna kept turning over the events of the library in her mind. She felt like she was seeing the events from a distance, like she was watching over her own shoulder as her body played its part in the terrible scene. Pau tried to sit on a high stool in the corner, but he gave up and started pacing again, a corn muffin in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other. Mrs. O’Brien watched him, but knew that nothing would help him. Pau had to move until his body realized the danger was over and it could rest. Word of Big James and Little Jimmy would help him, she knew. It would help her also.

The quiet was broken by Don Hernando sweeping open the kitchen door and ushering in three people quite unused to entering houses by the kitchen door. Considering the scene at the front door, Don Hernando had chosen this entrance, apologizing for any insult. Seeing that Cupido had created the incident at the front door, Don Hernando was tempted to make them walk the destruction, but he had no desire to put Senora de la Vega through such a thing.

The Senora was accompanied by her only daughter, Cecilia, and her youngest son, Martin, a priest. Don Hernando led the group into the clinic to see Cupido. Dr. Suarez courteously commended Maria for her prompt actions. “You son would be dead, if it was not for this young lady,” he said, waving a hand toward Maria. Senora de la Vega kissed Maria on the cheek, while Father Martin and Cecilia added their thanks. Maria murmured that it was nothing, and withdrew slightly so the doctor and family could have more room around Cupido. Senora de la Vega asked the doctor if Cupido would lose his arm. “He might,” said the doctor frankly. “But at this point the shock of the surgery would kill him. We must wait and see, but his chances are not good.” Cecilia asked if Cupido could be moved to their home. The doctor assured her that any such effort would surely kill him. 

“You all must stay here as my guests until Cupido is strong enough to return home,” said Don Hernando. “I shall not listen to any other plans. The rooms will be prepared immediately.”  The de la Vega’s accepted Don Hernando’s gracious offer. 

When the doctor told them it was time to leave and let Cupido rest, Maria gestured toward the kitchen and Cecilia headed that way. Father Roberto and the Senora lagged behind. Senora de la Vega asked Maria to show her where the fighting had taken place. Maria refused, but the Senora insisted and Maria gave way. They stayed in the library for only a brief time. The Senora was appalled at the damage. Maria was relieved that the bodies had been removed. In the clinic, Father Roberto took advantage of his sister’s and mother’s absence to administer the Last Rites to his brother.

When the de la Vegas had returned to the kitchen, Mrs. O’Brien announced that a small table was being set up for them in the old drawing room. A meal would be served there in about a half-hour. She knew they were not comfortable in the kitchen, and, if truth be told, she was not comfortable having them there. “If is not too much trouble, may we dine in the kitchen with you and your family?,” Senora de la Vega asked. “My family has done injuries to Don Hernando and your family and we would like to ask you forgiveness. Please allow us to dine with you at your table.” Father Roberto’s face betrayed no expression, while his sister was clearly unhappy with her mother’s words. Mrs. O’Brien recognized the look that the Senora gave her recalcitrant children and approved of its effect. Celia and Father Roberto dropped their heads in compliance. The Senora turned to Mrs. O’Brien and they shared an instant moment of maternal understanding. “What could you do with foolish, stubborn children?,” the look eloquently expressed.


Another lull settled on the crowded kitchen. Quiet conversations mixed with the general noises of passing dishes and scrapping chairs on the stone floor as people got up to get another helping. The quiet dropped to silence when Anthony Bryant arrived driving a dog cart.

Anthony entered the kitchen and went directly to his aunt, Mrs. O’Brien. Blood and smoke had stained his clothes and face. Bloody bandages were wrapped around his left arm and thigh. Mrs. O’Brien tried to send him to see the doctor, but he waved off her concerns. “I’ve come for you, Aunt Bridget,” he said solemnly. “Big James and Little Jimmy are dead. The wake is tonight at my mother’s house. We’ve laid the bodies out there.”

Anthony’s face was so pale, Mrs. O’Brien thought he was going to collapse. She scrambled out of her chair and guided him into it. He resisted at first, but then he slid down onto the seat. She rushed over to the stove and prepared him a plate of food. Pau brought him a mug of beer. “You sit and eat a bit, Anthony,” said Mrs. O’Brien. “When you feel stronger, I want to hear what happened to my brother and his boy.”

Time passed while Anthony slowly ate and gathered his strength. People who had wandered out of the kitchen began to wander back in as word of Anthony’s arrival with news of the Bryants spread. The de la Vegas excused themselves so they would not intrude on a private moment. They were also keenly aware that their family had been on the other side of fight. They were lead into the small sitting room to wait for their rooms to be prepared.

When he finished his sandwiches and his beer, Antony asked for water, then began his story. He spoke in a low, flat voice and often halted as he struggled with his emotions. “Our job,” he began, “was to wait until the end of Morales’ column had passed a certain rock. Then we would swing the gate shut, as it were. We’d hidden four wagons behind the rocks and at the right time, we were to push the wagons into the mouth of the pass and flip them onto their sides, barricading the exit.  We would use the barricade as a fortification to pour musket and rifle fire into the rear of Morales’ forces.”

“Our lookouts were watching closely, but the column must have stretched out because before the last of the troops reached the rocks, gunfire broke out at the head of the column. The troops in the rear panicked and tried to retreat. We hurried the wagons into place, but in our rush we left a gap between the second and third wagon. We spread out along the barricade, but instead of firing controlled volleys, we fired wildly. Men fired as quickly as they could load and our aim was erratic.”

“A group of Morales’ horsemen saw the gap and made for it. If they cleared the gap, they would be behind our lines. From there they could slaughter us. Two cavalry entered the gap. Big James and Little Jimmy shot the riders out of their saddles. They slung their rifles onto their backs and grabbed an armful of pikes each. Big James and Little Jimmy stepped into the gap and began to drive the pikes into the earth. They were trying to fill the gap with a fence of pikes.” 

“They bristled with pikes, so the riders couldn’t get close enough to use their swords. If the riders slowed enough to try a carbine shot, our muskets and especially our Baker rifles would cut them down. Big James and Little Jimmy ignored the cavalry pounding toward them and continued to plant the pikes. When they planted the last one, they slid their sword bayonets onto their rifles and planted themselves in the middle of the spiky fence. If any of the hastily planted pikes snapped, they were going to step in and defend the gap.”

“The noise from the other end of the ambush grew even louder. Wounded men were stumbling to the rear and being ridden down by their own cavalry or were caught in our fire. Our muskets had settled down into a disciplined attack and it was devastating. I saw a group of the trapped cavalry ride out of range and draw together. One of the riders was yelling and waving his arm. I realized that it was Cupido de la Vega.”

“Cupido rallied the cavalry for a desperate charge against the pikes, still the weakest area of our defenses. He and his friends, the ones called ‘the Silk Stockings,’ led the charge. At the last second, they pulled off and circled tightly. They now had three or four other cavalry trapped between us and them. They drove the trapped riders forward, blocking them when they tried to veer away. The trapped riders plunged onto the pikes which buried themselves deep into the horses and riders. The pikes either snapped or were pulled out of the ground by the writhing beasts.  Big James and Little Jimmy were buried under the fallen horses.” 

“Cupido’s men tried to force their way through the gap, but the gap was blocked completely by dead and dying horses and riders. We directed our fire into the gap and killed several of Cupido’s friends, but he and a small group of others escaped. We were so enraged that we climbed the barricades and chased them in small groups, sending volley after volley at them. My brothers and I ran into the gap to rescue our father and half-brother. It was too late. Somewhere in the smoke and confusion they had fallen. We pulled their bodies out from under the dead horses and the wounded and dying cavalry.” 

“I grabbed my father’s rifle and set out after Cupido. It was then I realized that the sounds of battle had nearly died. I looked among the corpses for Cupido and did not find him. He must have escaped. I tell you now, and I will tell anyone who wants to hear, that when my father and brother are buried, the Bryants will hunt down Cupido de la Vega. We will catch him and I will kill him myself.”

Anthony’s mounting fury echoed in the silence long after he stopped talking. Many listeners found themselves wondering how the unconscious Cupido lying no more than fifty yards away could not feel Anthony’s rage.
Mrs. O’Brien looked at Pau and signaled for him to take his cousin outside to talk to him. Mrs. O’Brien knew that the men had grown up together. They were inseparable opposites. Pau was stoic and controlled. Anthony was dionysean and passionate. She was counting on Pau’s ability to calm Anthony, on his self-control. She didn’t know that as Pau was guiding Anthony outside, he was wondering if this was the time he would give in to his desire to kill Cupido. 

Those in the kitchen sat stock still, their ears straining to hear the exchange between the cousins. First Pau’s deep, calm voice was heard. Soon Anthony’s voice cut in, loud and angry. Pau’s voice never changed pitch or volume and seemed to absorb Anthony’s anger. There was one last angry outburst from Anthony, then the dog cart could be heard driving away.  Mrs. O’Brien went to the door and saw the cart disappearing into the dusk. “Mother,” said Pau, “get changed. I am taking you to the wake in one hour.”

“What happened?,” asked Mrs. O’Brien. “Has Anthony calmed down?”

“Not, he has not,” said Pau in the same preternaturally calm voice. “He wanted to kill Cupido now. Here. I told him that I would not allow Cupido to be killed in the Valenzuela house. Not with his family as the Don’s guests. Not while he is unconscious. I told Anthony that Cupido will likely die from his wounds. Finally I told Anthony that if he recovers, he and I will kill Cupido together.”


Later that night Don Hernando and Lemuel went to the safe house. The Don needed to be away from the house for a while and he asked Lemuel if he would mind showing him the way. They met Miguel who had been watching the path a little up from the house. The three sat on rocks while the Don caught his breath. Once he did, Don Hernando asked Miguel if he and his brothers could build him a new library. Miguel beamed and assured Don Hernando that they could build the finest library he could imagine. They made an appointment for the next day to begin designing the addition, then stood and shook hands. 

On the way home, Lemuel asked the Don if he could help Miguel. The Don agreed and said they’d have to think about how to pay him. “I’ve already thought about that,” said Lemuel. “If you allow me to live in my old house that you have repaired so nicely, and allow me to eat with the O’Briens, I wouldn’t need anything else.” The Don immediately agreed, but knew that he must do more for this man who had risked his life for the Don’s family.


While Anthony was telling the story of Big James and Little Jim’s death, Ethna quietly slipped out of the kitchen. She didn’t want to hear about how Big Jim had died. She didn’t want any more images of death crowding her mind. She still felt strangely calm. She knew that earlier that day she had killed a man and seriously wounded another, but she didn’t feel any thing at all. When she wasn’t concentrating on something else, her mind would replay the scene from start to awful finish. She could see everything so clearly, but it bothered her that she could never tell how long the whole thing had taken. She still saw everything as if she were looking down on the scene from over her right shoulder. She knew she should be upset, but she felt as if she’d split, as if her mind had withdrawn to observe what her body performed. Somehow the split had frozen her emotions, they were under the control of her observing self. 

Ethna decided to go to her room and lie down. The younger girls’ absence made her tiny room unusually quiet. She stopped by the bathroom and cleaned up. In her room, she slipped into a nightgown and sat at her dressing table. She began combing her hair and gazing blankly into the mirror as one does while performing the mindless tasks of grooming. Tonight, however, she started to look at her herself, at her face, her eyes. In those eyes, Ethna saw her observing self. She saw how frightened it was. She laid down the brush and stared into those familiar, but somehow altered, eyes until her observing self merged with her active self and everything from that awful day collapsed in on her. She began to sob. 

When Anthony finished his story and Pau led him outside, Maria eased back in her chair. She hadn’t realized that she had leaned forward, drawn in by Anthony’s passion. Now she took a deep breath and looked about for Ethna. She had been trying to keep an eye on her. Maria didn’t want Ethna to be alone when everything hit her. 

As soon as she realized Ethna was gone, Maria hurried out of the kitchen toward Ethna’s room. She had just placed a foot on the bottom step when she heard Ethna’s strangely choked voice calling to her. Ethna was on the landing looking down at Maria. Her long dark hair and white nightgown hung loosley about her. Her feet were bare and her toes curled over the top step as if trying to secure a hold. Her face was ghostly pale. Tears rolled down her cheeks. Ethna looked imploringly at Maria and said in a flat, emotionless voice, “I can’t stop crying.”

Maria sat with Ethna for a long time. She held her until the young woman did stop crying. She listened while Ethna tried to explain how she had been split while all the violence swirled around her and now she was one again and it was all coming back, all the feelings were rushing in. She just listened and held Ethna close. She wrapped a blanket around Ethna when she grew cold. When Ethna lay down and fell asleep, Maria stayed a while then kissed her on the forehead, tucked the blankets in around Ethna, and quietly left. Maria stood in the dark hallway a few minutes to settle herself down. Today would difficult for everyone to forget.


After leaving Ethna, Maria returned to kitchen. Most of the O’Brien family had gone to the wake. Others had wandered off to quiet places. Lieutenant Villens was sitting at the table with Finn and Ronan when Maria entered. Villens abruptly rose and bowed. She smiled at the formality on such a day and he was pleased to receive her smile on such a day. The boys staggered to their feet and made a poor show of bowing. Maria shook her head sadly at them. The boys had volunteered to stay behind and guard the house, but they really wanted to stay behind and watch Villens. At first they hadn’t trusted him, but they’d heard about his actions defending Maria and wanted to hear all about it from him.  He wouldn’t discuss the matter as it involved a lady, which they found honorable, yet maddening. “If you want to know about the attack on the house, you should ask Mr. Lemuel,” said the Lieutenant. “He was there through the entire attack. I just came in at the end.” The boys acknowledged this, but Lemuel didn’t cut the fine figure that the cavalry officer did.

Maria had had enough of war and discussions of war. She announced that she was going to take a walk. Lieutenant Villens opened the door and asked if he might accompany her. Maria thought about saying no, but decided that company might be desirable. She wasn’t certain things had completely settled down yet. Before she could leave, Villens reached in to his pockets and drew out her pistols. “I believe these are yours, Mademoiselle,” he said, offering them to her. “I apologize for taking possession of them earlier.” Maria wordlessly took the pistols and slipped them into her pockets. She noticed that Villens had found time to clean them.

The two walked for a while in silence. The moon was up and the evening was bathed a cool, pearly light. Villens began to speak about his future. He would leave the army. A lieutenant who served under Morales would always be under suspicion. It didn’t matter that Villens, like most of the junior officers, were not included in Morales’ plots. He hadn’t wanted to be in the cavalry. That was his father’s dream. It was a common story. His father was a military hero from a military family. So what if his boy wanted to be an engineer? The boy would be an officer in the family’s regiment, and so on. An old, old tale. Maria smiled.

“Now, I will get to take off this lovely uniform and wear old clothes while I build things,” said Villens. “I would like to rebuild this old bridge first. Of course, I would need to be around quite a bit. Perhaps I could stay here? I understand there are vacant rooms above the stables. Would you consider renting them to me?”

“How long will you be staying?,” Maria asked. 

“It should take a month to build that bridge properly,” he said.

“A month, you say,” Maria said neutrally. 

“More or less, more or less,” he said hopefully.

They walked in silence for a while each of them thinking of something quite different from the war. They liked the feeling.  “You will have to speak to my father, of course,” said Maria. 

“Your father?,” Villens said. “So soon?”

“About building the bridge and renting the stable rooms,” Maria replied quickly. An awkward silence fell over the pair. Villens broke the silence.

“Do you have any objections to my plans?,” asked Villens.

“No. They seem quite agreeable,” answered Maria.

“Do you know of anyone who could sew some clothes for me?” Villens asked. “I need to escape this uniform as soon as possible.”

“You should ask any of the O’Brien women. Either Rose, Vera, or Lucinda, with the help of the girls, will have you outfitted in no time.” And they will love every minute of it thought Maria, glancing over at Villens’s tall, well-formed frame. 

“Would you mind helping them pick the material and colors,” he asked. “I should like you to approve of my new wardrobe.”

Again Maria smiled and realized that it had been a long time since she had smiled so freely. “Of course, Lieutenant. Oh, what should I call you now?”

“My name us Eduardo Villens. Please call me Eduardo.”

In her pocket a crumpled letter from Eduardo O’Brien seemed to burn her hand. “I will call you Villens,” she said. “I have had bad luck with Eduardos.”

“As you wish,” Villens replied and they walked a while more in silence. They found themselves walking along the soggy banks of the river. The flood had soaked the normally dry land and unusual flowers had burst forth. Villens stopped suddenly and knelt down on the damp ground. He carefully snapped off a stalk of flowers. The tiny, dark magenta blossoms clustered around the tip of the stalk in a tight orb two inches across. He presented it to Maria.

“It’s lovely,” she said, amazed to find a plant so close to her house that she had never seen. 

“It’s the flood,” Villens said. “All that destruction brings new life with it. Life always pours in where there is the slightest opening. Do you recognize the flower?”

“I should, but I don’t,” Maria admitted. 

“I have only seen them in damp climates or at higher altitudes. It is a primula denticulata, a drumstick primrose. Please accept it from an admirer of your bravery,” said Villens. “And your beauty.”

Maria blushed and hoped the moon wasn’t bright enough to reveal the color on her throat and cheeks. Villens noticed the rising color and was charmed, but he didn’t let on.  Maria thanked him for the flower and for the first time in her life wished she was wearing a dress instead of her dirty, blood stained work clothes. Then she realized that Villens had only seen her dressed as she was. She wasn’t certain what to make of this realization. She tried to remind herself that she had only known him for twelve hours, but the intensity of those hours put the lie to their brevity. 

“Can you really rebuild the bridge in only a month?,” Maria asked.

“Well, sometimes there are accidents that make things take longer,” he said.

“You should be careful that no one gets hurt in the accidents,” Maria said smiling even more warmly. The smiles were coming more easily.

Letter to Maria from Eduardo O’Brien. 

Maria received the letter from a messenger shortly after the attack on her house.

“Maria Valenzeula,

    I am on my way to the capitol with Lieutenant Rojas. We have heard from the capitol that victory is ours. I will not be able to come and see you before I go, but this is my chance to have a place in the new government and I must seize the chance. I am certain that you and all the family will be safe at your father’s house. I will send for you when I am settled in. We should marry soon; there is no longer any reason to wait. Major Rojas prefers his officers to marry. 

Yours Truly,

  Eduardo O’Brien”