My 16th Birthday
My first few months at the Chateau flew by. It was as if the entire family had set a schedule for me without regard for the others’ plans. My days were filled with instruction of all kinds. Mornings I learned French, dancing, and etiquette under the tutelage of Phillipe and Julianna. Phillipe also instructed me in Natural Science, although it would be more accurate to say that he spoke at length about some topic or other that had caught his interest and I tried to keep up. Julianna’s mother would call for her before Phillipe’s lecture ended, and I was left struggling to stay awake.
I ate lunch with Theodore in his study. Martin joined us when his duties allowed. While we ate, Theodore talked of government, politics, history, and geography. He firmly believed that the geography of our continent would determine our history. Unlike Phillipe’s lectures, Theodore’s talks drew me in and converted me to his point of view. I diligently applied myself to learning the incredible variety of lands and waters that shaped our continent. Theodore explained how the Incas were shaped by the mountains and plains, and how the new government slowly forming after the overthrow of the Spanish must conform to the land. When I look at the map fifty years later, and see the states sharing borders with geographical regions, I see that Theodore’s arguments against a united continental country won the day.
After lunch, Martin lead me through my physical lessons. He insisted on instructing me himself in the use of the epee, rapier, and saber, although he said that if I keep growing, I’d be better suited for a claymore. Ayala joined us and we three would practice shooting with pistols, carbines, muskets, and rifles. I loved this part of the day.
My final lessons of the day were with the General. He was determined to teach me to ride like a calvary officer. He explained that your horse isn’t for dashing around the countryside, looking pretty in your fancy uniform. It is a partner in quickly closing on your enemies and killing them. He showed me how to fight from horseback and situations to avoid. Theodore referred to this as training in combat skills. The General called it “learning all the dirty tricks, so you can kill them before they kill you.”
He and I raced around a field slashing at each other with dull swords. At first I worried about injuring or even killing the old man, but after the first few times he unseated me with blows I never even saw, I stopped worrying about the General’s safety and began to look after my own. In all the months and years he fought me, he never fell. I rarely touched him, and when I did, it was a harmless, glancing blow, that he followed up by clouting me in the chest or on the head. Once, as I was sprawled on the ground and he’d circled back to see if he’d killed me, I asked him how he could still be riding like this in his seventies. He shrugged and said simply, “I am a legend.”
Evenings were my own. I’d eat with the family or in the kitchen if the Doña was out visiting and dinner was informal. I liked eating in the kitchen. It reminded me of meals with my family at Don Valenzuela’s home. After dinner I wandered around the countryside, exploring or searching for plants and birds for Maria. Sometimes I’d play billiards with Martin and Phillipe or cards with Ayala and other soldiers. Occasionally Julianna played the piano and I’d stay and listen. On inclement evenings, I might even be found reading a book. I left Phillipe’s natural history books unopened, favoring instead Theodore’s histories and geographical studies.