27 November 2011

The Memoirs of Finn O'Brien Villens: Part 6

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.


24 November 2011

The Memoirs of Finn O'Brien Villens: Part 5


The four days we spent in the hotel were filled with the dull stuff of supplying Maria and I with the material goods needed to enter polite society. Our wardrobes expanded, I chose two sets of pistols, my first sword arrived with a note from Ayala warning me not to play with it until I had some training, and we ate as I had never eaten before. At home, we always had food, plentiful and delicious, but no one would ever use the word “delicacies” in connection with O’Brien cooking. The hotel chef leaned to delicacies and I learned to enjoy them even though I often had no idea what I was eating. With the exception of the food, the supply process proved dull and annoying. Maria grew irritated, complaining that she was being treated like a doll. I grew restless and began to plan my escape. 

On the fifth day, things started happening. Early in the morning, I had managed to slip away from Angelo, Señor Bernard’s assistant, who was driving me mad by fussing over my clothes. I was required to dress and undress repeatedly as the fit was adjusted. He had brought a small stool upon which I was required to stand for what felt like hours while he adjusted a seam or added a silver button. When Angelo wandered off to find scissors, or one of the thousand other tiny tools he’d brought with him, I slipped out of the room.  I swiftly darted down the stairs, crossed the lobby, and ran out into the street. It was the first time I’d been outside my rooms alone since we arrived and the freedom was intoxicating. I was dressed, Mr. Bernard assured me, as a son of a prosperous business man. I felt like a damned silly, flouncing fool, but at least I was a free fool. I walked a little way down the road, just past the hotel, to the mouth of a small alley. I peeked into the alley and heard laughter and talk, so I decided to investigate. I was in the mood for fun.

The alley led to the rear of the hotel. When I turned the corner, I saw two maids and a couple of rough looking guys. The guys were eating sandwiches that the maids must’ve smuggled from the kitchen. Open bottles of beer stood at their feet. When the girls saw me, they panicked and ran back inside. The fellows called after them, then turned their attention on me. They quickly measured me with appraising eyes and decided that the son of a prosperous business man must carry a heavy purse.

The two split up and approached me from either side in approved stalking mode. From their grins it was clear they thought I was an easy mark. “Didn’t your mother warn you about dark alleys, little boy?,” The talkative one said.

The other was more to the point. “Give us your purse and you might keep your clothes,” he muttered darkly.

I smiled, which slowed them a bit. They expected me to run, but I knew better than to run from wolves. I wasn’t too worried though. These wolves looked like they’ve seen better days. More likely, they’d never had better days. Ragged was as good as they would ever get.

I patted my pockets and exclaimed somewhat theatrically, “Damn! I have left my new pistols in my room.”

“Too bad boy,” said the talker. “‘Cause we’ve got these.” The thugs pulled kitchen knives honed to a fine point out of their pockets. No doubt the girls had stolen them from the hotel as well. They held the knives at their waists, points upwards, and fixed their eyes on me. They probably expected me to bolt anytime. I had different plans. 

“Well, well,” I said, “knives. That’s a different story!” I reached under my knee length tunic and slid my long knife from its sheath laced to my thigh while with my left hand I drew the heavy blade from my boot. “I have knives,” I said, grinning maniacally.

The dogs stopped in their tracks. They each seemed to be waiting for the other to start. The quieter one looked down at his kitchen knife and frowned. All the frustration built up during these days of being bullied and pestered by Mr. Bernard’s assistants flowed through me. I’m not proud of it, but there are times when I dearly love a fight. I grew tired of waiting for them to attack, so I did.

I took two quick steps to my left and swept my long dagger at the loudmouth thug’s throat. He leapt backwards, swearing. The other tried to close in on me, but he didn’t realize that I was setting him up with my initial feint. When he tried to close on my blindside, I spun away from him, and flashed out with the short, heavy blade. He wasn’t ready for my attack.  I stopped the knife just shy of his throat. He dropped his blade and begged me not to kill him. I had no intention of killing him, but I did deliver a solid kick that made him unlikely to father a child any time soon.

The loudmouth, his larger partner down, turned and ran down the alley. I thought about chasing him, but a dark figure detached itself from the shadows and smashed the loudmouth with the cage of his sword hilt. The men was knocked off his feet. A second figure stepped from the shadows and dragged the unconscious man into the deeper shadows of the alley. The figures were much more threatening than the two thugs had ever been. I did not wait to see what their intentions were. I ran back through the alley and out into the street. Before stepping out into the daylight, I sheathed my knives. It turned out this was a bad idea.

Once I was clear of the alley, I walked down the street, straightening my clothes and brushing off dirt. I didn’t pay attention to the clatter of a carriage closing in on me. The carriage slowed to a walk right behind me and, in a carefully orchestrated attack, my arms were pinned behind me, the carriage door was opened, and I was tossed inside. A large man followed me into the carriage. He effortlessly grabbed me and tossed me onto the bench. No words were spoken. No false bravado here. It was a thoroughly professional kidnapping.

An older man sat across from me, a pistol aimed at my chest. He banged on the roof of the carriage with a silver handled cane and the carriage jerked into motion. The big man who had been throwing me around removed the knife from its thigh sheath and dropped it in a brown leather bag at his feet. The older man leaned back into his bench and stared at me, his pistol now aimed at my head.

We only got a short way when I saw the troops appear on either side of the carriage. The old man was staring out of the window and the big man leaned forward and was fumbling with the leather case. With speed fueled by fear, I ripped the short knife from my boot and slammed it between the strong man’s shoulder blades. He felt to the floor, desperately pawing at the knife. Then the carriage brakes slammed against the wheels. The older man was thrown toward me. I dove to the side as his pistol discharged, its flash blinding me, the powder burning my cheek.  The older man fell against me. Grabbing for his shoulders, I turned toward him and snapped my head forward. I felt my forehead slam into this face and flatten his nose. The old man screamed and fell backwards, slamming against his bench and bouncing back at me. I shoved him onto the big man and climbed over them both. By now my sight was returning, and I kicked open the door, and hurled myself from the carriage.

I hit the street, and rolled to a stop against a building. I tried to stand, but my body wasn’t working right and my legs folded up under me. I tried again, but this time a strong hand grabbed me under my arm and dragged me onto the back of a horse. “Hang on,” yelled Ayala, his booming voice cutting through the fog that surrounded me. Before long, I was back at the hotel and two troopers were helping me down from the horse. 

They carried me to my room and laid me on the bed. Ayala and Maria washed the blood off my face. Maria asked why I was covered in blood when she could only find a small cut above my eye. “Broken noses bleed something awful.” I struggled to get out the words.

“But your nose isn’t broken,” she said.

“I didn’t say it was my nose,” I whispered and Ayala let out a huge roar of laughter. 

 Before long a doctor arrived and began checking me for injuries. I tried to speak, to ask questions, but talking was difficult. Ayala assured me that things were fine. One of the men in the carriage was dead, the other three were captured.  Before long, they would tell the troopers who sent them.  “The one with the broken nose said the boy’s a demon,” Ayala said addressing his words to Maria. “I told him to avoid fighting Irishmen. They don’t fight fair.”

He also told me that he had the two thugs who pulled knives on me in the alley. Maria’s head snapped towards Ayala. It was clear even to me in my muddled state that this was the first she heard of the fight in the alley.

“Was that you in the alley?” I asked.

“It was,” he said. “Also Sgt. Lopez.”

“And you let them attack me?” I asked.

“They were fools,” he said dismissively. “Besides I needed to see how you handled yourself.”

“Two men attacked Finn and you watched?,” asked Maria in amazement.

Ayala shrugged, “They needed more help than Finn did.” Maria glared at Ayala, who met her eyes with calm indifference.

A message arrived about an hour later. Villens would meet us at the address on the card. Ayala knew the address and told the manager to have a carriage waiting in thirty minutes. Maria was excused and the doctor cleaned and bandaged my injuries, mostly scratches and bruises. The doctor inspected my self-inflicted thigh wound, but I refused to answer his questions about it.

In a half hour, I was dressed in fresh clothes and clean bandages, sitting across from Maria and next to Ayala as the carriage rattled down the King’s Highway toward Puerto Seguro. Ayala’s pistols were in the pockets of my jacket. The gunsmith was still tinkering with mine. I leaned out of the window and saw a dozen troopers, surrounding the carriage. I asked Ayala where we were going, but he would not say. I had never seen him so tense. At one point he muttered something about being on top, not riding inside like some damn, fool aristocrat. If anyone was planning on attacking us, the dozen carbineers discouraged them. I think they should have been worried about the Ayala, who was furious that I had nearly been kidnapped when he was guarding me.

We arrived at our destination after a journey of several hours. The carriage and troops passed through a heavy gate which was swung shut and bolted behind us. We followed a circular gravel drive to the front of the tall brick house of Spanish style. Liveried footman opened the carriage doors and assisted us to the ground. We climbed the marble steps and a butler met us at the door. He lead us to a large library, then informed us that Doña de la Vega was unfortunately occupied with delicate matters. She would be with us as soon as she was able. The butler stepped out of the room and soon two maids arrived with trays of cold meat, bowls of fruit, and drinks. The butler soon returned with wine.

Maria wasn’t hungry and turned her attention to the library books. She made noises of approval as she muttered names of authors that meant nothing to me, save for Cervantes. Ayala and I ate heartily, while he retold, with ample embellishments honesty requires me to admit, my adventures in the alley. After the number of my attackers had risen to an even dozen, Maria dryly commented that soon I will have defeated Napoleon’s entire Imperial guard armed only with a pointed stick. Ayala insisted that Maria would not talk in such a manner had she seen me in action. I ate and enjoyed the exchange, while remembering to remain suitably modest. Maria mentioned something about the kidnapping and the memory of killing the big man ended all my sense of adventure.

When Ayala took a break from entertaining us to enjoy the claret and figs, I took advantage of the opening in the conversation to ask Maria why Doña de la Vega was in Puerto Seguro and why we were in her house waiting to see her. Maria returned the book she was studying to the shelf and walked over to me.  She motioned that I should join her on the sofa. I carried my plate, still piled high with meat, cheese, and fruit, and placed it on a small table. I asked Maria if I could get anything for her. She asked for a glass of wine. When I returned, she sipped the rich red liquid and sighed. “As far as I can understand all this, we are in trouble and Doña de la Vega wants to help. You probably are aware of all the difficulties I had with her son, Cupido,” she began. I nodded. Cupido and Maria had been a constant topic of conversation while I was a boy. “On the day of the ambush of Gen. Morales, I went to Doña de la Vega in an attempt to prevent the slaughter. She and Morales are related by marriage and I had hoped that she could do something to warn the troops. Cupido was at the center of the plot to the place Morales on the throne or whatever the ruler of this new country of ours sits upon. Who knows, maybe he thought that if he were a high-ranking officer in the Army of the new country, I would relent and marry him. His behavior had become so erratic, anything is possible. Of course, the ambush ended all those hopes and his life as well.”

“The events of that awful day and the weeks that Doña de la Vega spent at my father’s house nursing Cupido and easing his last days, brought us together. My mother died quite young and I came to appreciate the sagacity and wit of the Doña. I look at her as a wise aunt, an experienced woman who has my interests at heart. That said, I didn’t know of this house, nor did I have any expectation that we would be waiting to see her. From the way that Ayala and his troops hurried us here after the attack on you, I can only assume that we are here for our protection. I believe that there must have been many conversations about you and I that we have not privy to.” Maria looked at Ayala for confirmation of her suspicions. Ayala held up a finger, hurriedly chewing and swallowing the cold pheasant he been systematically working through. He took a long drink of wine and cleared his throat before addressing Maria.

“I think it best if we wait for Doña de la Vega,” he said.

Maria did not look satisfied, but as Ayala returned to his assault on the pheasant, the pointlessness of further questions became obvious. Maria ate some of the fruit from my plate and sat lost in her own thoughts among the books and paintings of the grand library. After a while, Ayala left the room to check on the soldiers. 

The door opened and we expected Ayala to return, but instead Doña de la Vega swept into the room. Maria and I rose to our feet and Doña  de la Vega embraced Maria and kissed her on the cheek. The Doña shook my hand and greeted me then she waved us into our chairs. We talked for a while about this and that, nothing really important, nothing touching why we were there. Then Ayala returned and led me outside. That was the last time I saw Maria for several months. She did however send me several letters to keep me informed and to check on me.

Before I go into how Maria and I spent the next few months, I want to explain something, just in case I haven’t made it clear. Villens would have married Maria the first day we left the woods and set foot on his family’s grounds, but his family was a different matter. Maria felt the same way. Unfortunately, many influential families with marriageable daughters and calculating parents wanted an attachment to the Villens family. While they both wanted their son to marry a worthy woman, Martin’s parents had their own concerns. Theodore was concerned about the current volatile political situation. The revolution led by the Rojas family was an incomplete and rather sloppy act. He would like his see his family tied to one of the eight great families by marriage to help him shape the events of the near future.

Doña Villens’ thoughts were elsewhere. She wanted her son’s marriage to raise their family to the upper realm of society. They currently had access to that lofty position through their military role, but she wanted full access. Since Martin had turned twenty, his mother had been making arrangements with other socially prominent women to bring a small army of marriageable women into contact with Martin. Every leading family with an eligible daughter had spent long visits at the Chateau Villens. The general once requested that the printed menus for the formal dinners that accompanied these visits include the name of the intended betrothed so that he could keep the names straight. While Maria came from an old and honored family, the Valenzuelas had fallen on hard times several generations back and had not regained their former status.

Martin adored his mother and so was blind to her faults. He had cheerfully endured the efforts of a large portion of society to led him to the altar. His father generally stayed out of these machinations, however he did point out how attractive the daughters of several political powerful families were. When Martin asked his father how to choose a wife, his father told him to carefully evaluate what he wanted in a wife and then throughly examine all the available women to find the best match. Martin was struck at how different this advice was from the story of how his father met his mother, but he thought too highly of his father to point this out. When Martin asked his grandfather about choosing a wife, his grandfather offered to pay his way to Paris where Martin was to seduce the most beautiful woman he could find and then whisk her away to the New World one step ahead of her father, brothers, and fiancee. “You want two things in a wife,” the General concluded. “A great passion and a great story.” 

Maria spent the next several months becoming established in the de la  Vega home and in society. Maria was taken to visit prominent citizens. The de la Vega house became the center of social activity. The prominence of Doña de la Vega along with the sparkling wit and beauty of Maria attracted the important members of Puerto Seguro society. Members of all the important families soon found their way to the Doña’s home. The Doña and Maria would also visit the great houses in the nearby areas. Soon Maria’s charms, intelligence, and beauty established her as a prominent social figure.

A room off of the library was turned into a study for Maria. Arrangements were made to bring her books, specimens, and equipment from Don Valenzuela’s home. Once the new study was established, Maria began to attract members of various philosophical societies that were springing up around Puerto Seguro. It was rumored that several elderly naturalists were so taken by her study of comparative anatomy that they offered to marry her, but Maria managed to put them off without insulting them. Julianna and Phillipe Villens became regular visitors. Julianna was barely in her teens, but she admired the taste and sensitivity of Maria and Doña de la Vega, while Phillipe was thrilled to have access to Maria’s scientific studies.

Considering their places in society, it’s not surprising that Doña Angelica de la Vega and Doña Mathilda Villens were old friends. They had been in each other’s wedding party, and often visited each other’s home. After Maria had become established in the social world of Puerto Seguro, and word of her qualities had time to drift back to Donña Villens, Doña de la Vega arranged for a small dinner party at her home to which the Villens family was invited.

While Maria was becoming a familiar sight in society, I was getting to know the Villens family. The day that I was separated from Maria, Ayala took me to the Château. Martin greeted us there and I was amazed at how different he looked. When he had lived with us, Villens had a air of shabby nobility about him. The nobility remained, but the shabbiness was long gone. He had returned to his uniform, and the commanding presence I’d seen once or twice was now a permanent, natural feature. He greeted me warmly and asked after Maria. I told him what little I knew at the time, and he assured me that she would be fine. He seemed quite confident that Maria would be taken care of properly. Apparently he, his parents, and Doña de la Vega had been involved in many discussions about Maria and myself.

I’m not sure why I did what I did next. I think perhaps I was just tired of all these people having discussions about my life without bothering to include me. What I did was this. I told Villens that he may have returned to the cavalry, but I had not joined. He looked dandy in his new uniform, but I didn’t feel like saluting. I wanted to know right now what all these plans are about me. Then I would decide whether I was staying or whether I was going home. I’d gotten there on my own two feet, and I could get back the same way.

Villens looked surprised and then a little hurt. His eyes narrowed as he examined my face.  I stared back unblinking.“Perhaps I should have a word with the boy,” said a voice from behind me. I whirled around and saw an old man in the fanciest uniform I’d ever seen. He was tall and thin, and even so, the large chair he was sitting in threatened to swallow him. The old man waved the others out of the room and gestured for me to sit next to him. When we were alone, the old man introduced himself as General Lucien Villens, Theodore’s grandfather. I rose and shook his hand. He asked me to come outside with him.

As we walked through the corridors of the great house, the General asked me to tell him about the journey from my home to his. I told him about the time that Maria, Martin, and I had spent together. He wanted to know about the events before I caught up to the others. I asked him why he wanted to know about things that didn’t concern him. “I understand that you saved my Grandson’s life,” said the General. “That concerns me, don’t you think?”

I had to agree, but I told the old man that I didn’t enjoy talking about that night. “I would like to know what happened,” the General said softly. “In your own words. It’s important to me. You say you are tired of people talking about you, well, here is your chance to start talking about yourself.”

“You’re still telling me what I should I talk about,” I said.

The General laughed and slapped me solidly on the back. “I guess so,” he replied. “Tell you what. You tell me what I want to know then you can ask me questions. Is that fair?”

I nodded and told him about hunting the men in the forest. I was careful to give credit to my father and to describe my actions without exaggeration. He asked me how I felt, and I told him that I was scared at times, and at other times I had no feelings, I just reacted. He asked me why I didn’t shoot the men. I told him that I didn’t know where they all were and I didn’t want to give myself away. He wanted to know why I didn’t use a knife. I explained that I didn’t plan my attacks, I just wanted the men stopped. “‘Stopped,’” he said slowly. “Not killed.”

I thought for a minute. “No, I wanted them dead,” I said. “I knew that if the men weren’t killed, Maria and Martin, would be.” 

“And so would you have been,” said the General studying me closely.

I laughed. “Those city boys never would have come close to me in the woods,” I replied. “Besides, I had the Baker rifle. If they trapped me somehow, I would have picked them off one by one before they reached me.

“You killed one of the kidnappers with a knife,” said the General. 

“I did,” I said matter-of-factly.

“Why? What was different?” he asked.

“I had already been threatened in the alley. I suppose you’ve heard of that?”

“Yes, Ayala reports that you handled yourself well.”

“Better than he did,” I answered and the General couldn’t repress a smile.

“But the carriage was different. The man I killed was stronger than me. He’d tossed me into the carriage like I was a rag doll. The older man in the carriage held a pistol on me, but I was worried about the big man. I knew there was a driver, but there could have others on top of the carriage. I also was worried that the carriage was taking me away from the hotel and I had promised to protect Maria. All that swirled through my head, so when the chance came to escape, I took it.”

The General and I walked in silence for awhile.  “And you are fifteen?” he asked. “You look quite fit.”

“And you are eighty,” I said. “You also look quite fit.”

The General laughed so long and hard he had to sit and catch his breath. “I am seventy-eight,” he said, “and I am a legend. But then, legends have to be fifteen sometimes.” I have never received a compliment that meant more to me, although it would take years before I realized what the General meant or I began to earn it.

We walked through a heavy oak door and entered the gunroom. “Enough stories,” he said. “Finn, my boy, I would like you to demonstrate this new rifle.” And so I did. He gave me targets to hit and I hit them. The most distant target was a rock on a fence about seven hundred yards or so away. The rock was the size of a coconut. I knocked it off the fence. I told the general that with a little practice, I could stretch the distance a little further. 

He said that he had heard that Napoleon rejected the rifles because the were slow to load. I said that I wasn’t a good person to demonstrate speed, because I hadn’t used the rifle in battle. I wasn’t trained to load quickly, but I’d heard of British troops that could fire three rounds in five minutes. While I cleaned the rifle, the General returned my knives to me. Ayala had brought them to the chateau from the carriage where I had one taken from me and I’d left one in the strong man’s back. The general admired my father’s work.

We sat outside the gunroom, he in a campaign chair he kept stashed behind the door and me on the grass. “Thank you for the demonstration, Finn,” the General said. 

“Is it my turn to ask questions now?” I replied.

“Go ahead,” he said.

“Why can’t Martin and Maria get married?” I asked.

He explained about politics and about the rules of society. “You have to understand, Finn. The great families of this country think that we are still in Medieval times. To them, everything is King and land. Napoleon has unseated the King and Eduardo O’Brien is going to teach them that land is not enough. My family, that is my son and grandson, understand that the world has changed. We are entering a time of great men, Washington and Napoleon, for example. There will be men like them here. Martin and Theodore want this land to become a republic like the United States. Eduardo O’Brien wants to serve Napoleon, or someone like him. Rojas is no Napoleon. He should watch O’Brien closely, for if O’Brien finds a Napoleon here, he will ally himself with this Napoleon and destroy the Rojas family in a heartbeat.”

“So for now, Martin’s marriage must be carefully arranged. There are those in the great families who want to be allied with us. We are the dominant military family. The Army is loyal to the Villens family. As I said, these families are Medieval and they see marriage as the best way to tie families together. Don Valenzula is a good man from a good family, but he is not in the same element of society as the other families. We must negotiate carefully with the leading families, so that they will not be offended when Martin marries Maria. When those things are done, Martin and Donna Maria will marry, not before. From what I hear of her from Martin, the young lady is a unique prize for a young man. I look forward to meeting her.”

Finn thought about all this for awhile and then set it aside. He knew he’d have to discuss these things with Martin, as he was coming to think of him. “What about me?” asked Finn. “When can I go home?”

“Ah, yes, well that’s difficult to say,” said the General. “When Martin and Maria fled from your home, Don Valenzuela sent a message to Theodore via Donña de la Vega. He wrote us about their flight so that we would search for them and help them. We sent troops to the south, never expecting that they would loop around to the north. Don Valenzuela added that you might be with them and asked as a personal favor to him if we would take you under our protection. He was concerned that your cousin Eduardo might strike out at you if you got in his way. A very perceptive man is Don Valenzula.”

“What did he mean ‘take me under your protection,’” I asked.

“He means that we should keep you safe and treat you well. We haven’t been doing a great job of keeping you safe, but you’ve done well for yourself. Lt. Ayala has spoken to me about you and asked to be allowed to continue to act as your bodyguard. It’s up to you.”

“I would be pleased to spend time with Lt. Ayala, but what about Maria?” I asked.

“We don’t think that she is in danger,” said the General. “O’Brien is married, and shows no further interest in her. He seems to strike out at those who protect her or who want to marry her. Martin is safe here. Any action against him would bring down the army on Eduardo and Rojas. We have made that clear to Rojas. He commands some troops, but we could raise a much larger force if Martin as attacked. As for Ayala, after that attempted kidnapping, he was all for driving the carriage to Eduardo’s doorstep with the corpses of all four of O’Brien’s men inside. As it was, we escorted the carriage to the capitol with the man you killed and the other three men inside. The others were a little worse for wear, what with you breaking one’s nose, and Ayala talking severely to the others. I trust that the  your cousin got the message to stop his attacks. If he has not, we will take action.”

“For the time being, we think that you would be best served to stay with us. We don’t know how your cousin Eduardo will respond to his failed efforts. He has lost six men. You will be safe here and there is plenty to keep a young man busy. If you would like, I would be pleased to see to your training as an officer. In a few years, perhaps you would like to join us.”

“In the meantime, as you are the only one here who is familiar with the Baker rifle, perhaps you can help Lt. Ayala form a squad of Light Infantry. Arrangements have been made with the British to supply us with a quantity of Baker rifles and munitions. They would like allies in case Napoleon attempts to establish his rule here. You have to understand that warfare here in South America is not like it is Europe. There are vast areas of land here and few people. Few Europeans, that is, for that is who is fighting these days. What we need are fast moving infantry to complement our already superior cavalry.”

“We must also teach you the ways of a gentleman. Your knives are excellent, but you must learn to use a sword. Stand up, boy, and turn around,” he ordered. I did as he said. “You are going to a large man. Forget about the epee or rapier. You will have a sabre. You would probably snap an epee in two.”

“You must also learn to dance and ride. And perhaps we can brush up your social skills a bit. Teach you to speak properly to a young woman. To either be witty or proficient enough with pistols and the sword that others will not practice their wit on you.  But most importantly, we must teach you how to avoid brawling in alleys. I have a feeling that you’ll have your hands full dueling.”

“So, what do think of all that, Finn? Would you like to stay with us and get started?”

I told the General I’d like to think about his offer. He suggested that he, Martin, Theodore, and I meet after dinner to discuss the matter. At dinner, I was seated across from Martin’s younger sister, Julianna. She was just entering her adolescence, and at times she would turn head a certain way and I could see glimmers of the beauty that she would become. I did not speak to her, but I listened to her conversation and enjoyed her lively wit and intelligence. 

After dinner, the four of us retired to the General’s library and before anyone could speak, I told them that I would gladly accept their offer. Martin jumped from his seat and slapped me on the back. His father rose sedately and shook my hand. The General poured a glass of Port for me, grinned saying, “Well, gentlemen. Let's see what we can make of this promising young man.”