12 December 1806
Maria was preparing to attend the birthday celebration of her mother-in-law, Doña Mathilda, when the baby declared its intention to be born and soon. Martin burst into the parlor where most of the family had gathered prior to the birthday dinner and announced the big event. Chaos erupted as Doña Mathilda and her daughter, Julianna, leapt to their feet and hurried from the room, issuing orders to a herd of maids trailing in their wake. Martin collapsed onto his chair and his grandfather handed him a glass a wine. Before he could drink it, his father and brother pressed another glass on him. I was the youngest present and the only one not a member of the family, but by this time, nearly six years since Maria and I had helped Martin escape Eduardo’s men and return safely home, I was considered family.
We men spent the next six or so hours wandering about downstairs and on the patio. Every so often one of us would sneak upstairs searching for news and be quickly sent downstairs, our tail between our legs. This was women’s business. Even the maids had no compunction in ordering their masters downstairs. I took up position outside a kitchen window, and managed to have a quick word with Martin’s sister, Julianna, who was arranging for some cold food for her mother and the midwife. We had become friends over the years and she told me that Maria was doing fine and the baby should be here soon. I passed the message on a relieved Martin. This was his second child, but the poor man was as nervous as if it were his first.
There was a full moon and I found the Villens men gathered on the patio in the gleaming silver light. The air was warm and still. We spoke softly and drank to Martin and Maria. Phillipe offered a toast for a son, and we all seconded that wish. Martin replied that he would never give up his daughter, Alisa, but a son would be welcome. As always when important events brought the Villens family together, I thought of my family and wondered when I would see them again. I wondered how many marriages, births, and deaths I’d missed while Eduardo’s vengeance kept me away from home. How many celebrations had passed by without me?
As the evening drifted on, the men moved into Don Lucien’s study and settled in to await the birth. I grew increasingly homesick and remained behind until I was alone in the darkness. I walked around to the other side of the house, from where I could see the brightly lit birthing room. Shadows passed across the curtains. Once the curtains opened briefly and Julianna looked out, searching the darkness and then returning to the room. I wondered if she somehow knew I was out there, but no, that was impossible.
I turned from the window and began to walk toward the open doors across the patio, when I heard footsteps in the trees. I continued to walk, but focused my hearing on the faint noise. Eduardo had sent men after me on numerous occasions, but he had never dared to trespass on Villens’ property. Perhaps this would the first time. I reached for my dagger. Fury filled me when I thought that Eduardo would dare send his vile creatures to invade this moment. I made a vow that if I found the man, I would kill him. I slid silently into the woods and followed the heavy footsteps that were leading away from the house. That was fine was me. I didn’t want the cur’s death to disturb the household.
I rapidly closed on the man. He was alone and I had to respect his daring, but he knew nothing of the woods and tromped through them so loudly a deaf man could have followed him. He was walking slowly along a path I was familiar with, so I was able to circle him and lay in wait a short way ahead. As he approached, I could see that he was a large man, heavily built. I would have to be careful.
I decided to let the man pass and then attack him from behind. This would allow me to make certain the man wasn’t a local fellow. As the man passed my hiding place in the shadows, I saw him up close for the first time and instantly recognized him. “Ayala, I almost stuck you,” I said stepping from the shadows, “You walk like an elephant.”
Ayala flinched, startled from his reverie. He stared at me with my drawn dagger. I slid the dagger into its sheath and the two of us just looked at each other for a while. Ayala was unable to clear his mind of whatever had been preoccupying him. I’d never seen my friend so morose. “What is it, Luis?,” I asked. “What has happened?”
“It is my mother,” he said vacantly. “My mother has died.” He held out a letter to me. I took the letter and read. It was from Ayala’s sister. I’d never met his family. They lived far to the north and were quite poor. I knew that Ayala sent them money and visited them when he could, which was not often. Apparently he was planning on visiting his mother soon and his sister was writing to tell him of his mother’s death so he could adjust his plans.
I handed the letter to Ayala and said how sorry I was at his loss. The big man took the letter and stood there, his arm extended, holding the letter away from him. He was in a daze and I could see tears on his cheeks. I stepped over to my friend and threw my arms around him. “My mother is dead,” he repeatedly softly. “And I was not there.”
“Come with me,” I said and I led Ayala back to the house. “Standing in these woods is no way to honor you mother.” Ayala followed me and we went to the carriage house. We carried a small table and two chairs out into night. We sat in the darkness and I listened while Ayala told me of his mother, her life, her long illness, and how he would miss her.
From our place on the lawn, we could see the brilliantly lit windows of the General’s study. After a while Ayala noticed that the Villens men were gathered in the room. He asked what was happening. I told him about Maria and the baby. He smiled slightly and wiped is eyes. “My mother always said that when someone dies, another is born. Life is wheels within wheels, she’d say.”
I left Ayala briefly and went across the patio and into the dining room. I gathered up a bottle of red wine and two glasses and returned to the small table. I poured us each a glass and we drank to his mother. He insisted that the second glass be to Maria and Martin, then he asked me about my mother and it was my turn to shed a tear.
We sat in the darkness, drank our wine, and told stories about our distant families. All the while, we absently watched the Villens men drinking and talking about their family. In the early morning hours, the conversation ebbed and we all were drawn into our own thoughts. Then we saw the door to the General’s study open and the Villens men poured out of the room. Ayala stood up to say goodnight. He said that I should go with the Villens family.
I insisted that I was going nowhere. I was with my closest friend, and I would stay with him. Ayala smiled, the first smile of the night for the usually jovial man. So we sat and drank the wine, until we saw Martin step onto the patio. He was clearly searching for someone, so we called to him. He waved to us and hurried over to our little table.
“Perfect,” he said. “I’ve found you both. Maria has sent me to find you two so you can see the baby. Come quickly, she is so tired, but she will not sleep until I find you.” With that, the three of us charged across the yard and into the house. We thundered across the dining room, terrifying a group of servants who were preparing a cold meal, and ran up the stairs. Martin waved us to a halt in the hallway and we caught our breath before entering Maria’s lying-in room in a somewhat dignified manner.
The baby was beautiful. I knew it would be with such handsome parents. He was a boy and his name was Javier Alejandro, after uncles on either side of his family. Maria greeted us warmly, but she was so tired and worn, that we quickly turned to leave her. Martin asked me to stay, then invited Ayala to join the family in the dining room for a cold meal. Ayala looked surprised, then thanked Martin and left the room. Maria waited for him to leave and then patted the edge of the bed. “Sit down, Finn,” she said. “Martin and I would like to ask a favor of you.”
I sat down and she took my hands in hers. Martin walked around the bed and rested a hand on my shoulder. I looked from one to the other and they were beaming at me. I couldn’t imagine what favor I could provide for them, but I was willing to do anything they asked.
“We would like you to be Javier’s godfather,” said Maria softly, her voice weakened from the delivery.
I was stunned. “But there are so many important people who would be a better choice,” I stammered. “Me? His godfather?”
Maria and Martin laughed. “We’ve never forgotten that we owe our lives to you,” Maria said.
“And so, we place our son in your protection,” said Martin.
A nurse brought the baby into the room and handed him to Martin. He held the baby out to me and I reached for him and cradled him in my arms. “My godson, Javier,” I murmured tears clouding my vision. I looked at Maria and then at Martin. “I will protect him will all my skills and my life itself. I am honored.” Then I kissed Javier on the forehead and gently handed him to his mother.
The family gathered in the dining room, but I wanted to be alone for a while to gather myself. I went to my room to lie down. After a while, I dozed off. When I awoke a few hours later, a tray of cold meats and a glass of beer was on the little side table by my bed. A small box was balanced on the edge of the tray. I sat up and reached for the box. Inside was a silver pin and a small note card. The pin was the Villens family crest, such as was worn on the uniform of members of the Villens family. The card read “You’ll be a wonderful godfather. I’m proud you are one of us.” The card was signed by Lucien.