Back to the Beginning

Parte Quatro

Nikki

Rachel was nervous for Felipe. More than she cared to admit, she was quite taken with the young man from California. If only he would listen to reason!

The crowd had gathered outside of the cantina to watch the unexpected brawl between the resident troublemaker and the young stranger.

Things did not look good for Felipe. This was the first time he had ever been in a real fight, alone. And I brought it upon myself, the young man thought bitterly. Antonio was a big man; he would not be easily beaten. Felipe scanned his mind, trying to remember what strategies he should use.

Antonio glared angrily at Felipe. Without warning, he lunged at the smaller man. Felipe dodged the attack just in time. Antonio was surprisingly fast for a big man. Felipe silently thanked his father for all his training. If he was any slower, he would be pinned to the ground, helpless.

For a while, Antonio advanced and Felipe retreated. Finally Antonio was fed up.

"Coward! Come out and fight like a man," Antonio yelled.

Felipe felt hot blood rising to his cheeks. "I resent your comment, Señor. We will see who is a coward." He pulled the man's right arm and pushed it back with all his strength.

Antonio gritted his teeth, trying not to cry out with pain. Using his good arm, he grabbed the young man's collar and hoisted him up into the air. Felipe was caught unprepared. While suspended in the air, he seemed to hear his father's voice from far away. Remember the important rule in fighting. Never let your guard down, not even right after you manage to do some damage to your opponent.

"Not so smug now, eh?" Antonio sneered at the young man hanging from his arm. "Would you like to go flying?" Without waiting for answer, the drunkard flung Felipe clear across the front of the cantina. He landed, face first, on a chair in front of the cantina.

A moment later, Felipe got up, blood dripping down his face. Seething with rage and humiliation, he was about to charge down at Antonio, then caught himself.

His father's words rang in his ear. Another rule you should remember, Felipe, is that no matter the circumstance, do not allow your anger to cloud your judgement.

Antonio ran toward Felipe, intending to finish off the young man.

"Stop it!" cried Rachel. Taking a deep breath, she turned to address Antonio.

"I will consider your offer," she said as calmly as she could.

She caught Felipe's eyes, and knew he did not approve. To be honest, the last thing Rachel wanted was to be with this drunkard, but she could not stand watching Felipe getting hurt. Why did men have to settle their differences by beating up each other?

"Now, that's better, my pretty wench," Antonio leered. "I am willing to forget this unfortunate incident if you will tell this boy here not to cross me again."

Felipe clenched his fists. How dare this drunkard called him a boy. However, remembering his father's advice, he chose to ignore Antonio's insulting comment.

"No Rachel, you can't give yourself up just like that. This fight is not about you as much as the manners of this rowdy drunkard." Felipe winced slightly at what he just said. It sounded like he suggested that Rachel was not important.

Rachel was a little taken back. Anyone else talking to her that way would have to answer to her. However, she was fond of Felipe. Besides, she could see that Felipe was tired. He probably did not really mean to order her around.

"I did not mean any disrespect to you, Rachel, but I still have to teach him a lesson," Felipe hurriedly apologized. "Besides, I can't back down from a challenge."

"But you can't fight him," Rachel protested.

"Sure I can. Wait and see." Felipe sounded more confident than he actually felt

"Watch your mouth. If you are so determined, I would have to get more serious," Antonio warned him.

Felipe did not answer. He knew he would not stand a chance if the fight dragged on. Somehow he had to end the fight quickly. However, he could not simply run away; doing so would be too much of a blow to his honor.

"Antonio!" A voice interrupted.

Heads turned toward the newcomer. The voice belonged to a young woman. She wore clothes that indicated that she was a member of the upper class.

"I told you to wait for me at my house, but you never showed," her eyes were blazing. Noticing the crowd at last, she asked, "And what is happening here?"

"I'm sorry, Señorita Mardez," stammered Antonio. "I was on my way there when this," he paused, pointing accusingly at Felipe, "self-righteous boy started to poke his nose into my private affair."

"How many times do I have to tell you not to pick a fight?" Señorita Mardez practically screamed. "I have need of a handyman, and the only one I got has to be so incompetent!" She rolled her eyes in exasperation

Antonio knew better than to argue with her, so he looked down, avoiding her eyes. The crowd was fascinated. The sight of a pretty señorita shouting at a town drunkard was something to see.

Rachel took the opportunity to come closer to Felipe during the commotion.

"Felipe, are you all right?"

He nodded, letting out a sigh of relief. Looking at each other, they slipped away quietly from the crowd.

When they were some distance away, Felipe asked Rachel if she knew of the young woman.

"I have heard of her. Carlotta Mardez. She recently moved from another part of town. Her house is near where I live, which is how I met that Antonio in the first place."

Felipe stiffened at the mention of Antonio's name, but he let it pass They had left the unpleasantness behind at the cantina; he saw no need to spoil the mood by bringing up the subject again.

"Lives in Madrid are certainly not dull," Felipe remarked. "When I first heard about my father's adventures in Madrid, I thought he must have made some of them up."

"You will have plenty of time to find out," Rachel could not help but smile at his youthful enthusiasm.

They continued to talk like dear friends, like they had known each other for many years. Rachel was a sweet, considerate friend, and Felipe found himself enjoying her company immensely, especially after the ordeal he had just been through.

Some time later, they reached the place where Lady Rachel lived.

"Thank you for coming with me," she told Felipe.

"De Nada," he shook his head. "I am glad to be of service."

"Are you going back to your quarters at the university?" Rachel asked.

Felipe grinned. ", I have had enough excitement for one day."

"Until we meet again," Rachel extended her hand. Felipe took her hand and kissed it warmly.

Felipe watched until she was safely inside, then turned back toward the street.

Walking along the street, Felipe thought back at the events of the day. He had made an enemy and their fight was far from over. He did not know what he should do. His father was too far away to be any real help to him. Still, it would not hurt if he informed Diego of his fight with Antonio.

Felipe mentally ran through other options he might have. Staying out of sight? That was way too much the action of a coward. Besides, his pride would not let him. Why should he hide? He knew he had done nothing wrong. Felipe would never be able to forgive himself if he let Antonio have his rough way with Rachel. Maybe he could ask Sir Edmund for advice. But as soon as the thought entered his mind, Felipe realized that Sir Edmund had problems of his own. He could not possibly have time for the young man's trouble.

No, don't worry about your problem now, Felipe chided himself. He had to register for classes the next day, so he better put on a good appearance when he went in to see the headmaster. He might be studying in Madrid for a few years, so he might as well enjoy himself. His stay in Madrid was supposed to be a fun, exciting experience. He resolved not to let anything ruin his stay here.

A dark figure suddenly crept up behind Felipe. Taking out a stick, the figure was about to strike him on the head when Felipe turned around. For a moment, the young man was too stunned at the sight of the figure to do anything. That brief moment was all the dark figure needed to finish hitting Felipe, but not before the young man managed to take off the cloak which concealed the face of his attacker.

"You!" Felipe cried, horror written plainly on his face.

The figure watched impassively as the young man fell to the ground, unconscious.

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