Back to the Beginning

Parte Siete

Nikki

All a casual observer at the castle would be able to see of Felipe de la Vega was that he was a charming young man, every bit a caballero. They had no idea how hard he worked to conceal his excitement at being in the famed Royal Palace of Spain and actually meeting the King. This was the adventure he was looking for.

Don Rodrigo had a definite guess as to the meaning of the gleam in Felipe's eyes and resolved to talk to the young man later. Being a soldier, he knew the war between the royalists and the enemies of the King, if it did break out, would not be without bloodshed.

However, Don Rodrigo had no real reason worry. Felipe had never liked wars. Wasn't it the war in Mexico that had killed his real parents? Wars tore families apart, and as a result of Felipe's own early losses, he was all the more sympathetic to everyone who lost their loved ones in such a cruel way.

King Ferdinand and his three guests finally reached a magnificent room at the end of the hallway. The curtains were drawn back half way, revealing the beautiful scene of the Spanish garden. On the rising platform in the middle of one wall of the room stood the golden throne. There were chairs on the floor on both sides of the throne, which the King indicated for his visitors.

After settling down comfortably on the throne, the King started. "Felipe, I know you are anxious to hear the rest of the story."

", Your Majesty." Felipe nodded eagerly. He needed to know what was going on. Like it or not, there was no way out of this "mess" now. Hadn't he been captured by Sir Edmund's enemies, and later escaped?

"It began years ago, when people got it in their heads that they were not treated well. They said they did not need kings anymore, that they would provide for themselves. So they planned to wipe out the Royal Crown, but fortunately they did not succeed. We put up a good fight and executed many of these 'traitors,' or revolutionaries, as they call themselves.

"For some time after that, we believed that Sir Edmund was a traitor since his students were. He became a fugitive with a price on his head and eventually fled to California. We did not know what went on over there, but apparently everyone there thought he was killed. Sir Edmund came back silently, not wishing to announce his presence, but we have spies all over Madrid, so we know he is back. In my opinion, he should not be here at all; Madrid is hardly a safe place for him."

As he listened to the King, Felipe knew he was inadvertently thrown into a conflict. He was supposed to be loyal to the crown of Spain, because his adoptive family had been, for generations. But yet, he considered himself an independent young man, who would evaluate every side fairly rather than blindly take a side just because he was a de la Vega.

"You should know who some of these 'traitors' are. Some of the men who used to work for me are forming a secret group and planning something vicious toward the crown of Spain. Unfortunately, my spies have not yet been able to locate their hideout."

Felipe's ears picked up on the King's mention of a secret group. His thoughts flew back to the tavern-like place where he had been held captive. If he decided to swear loyalty to the King, now would be a perfect chance to do it. But, as he had reflected that night, would not the matter be best left in the hand of the authorities? Besides, how could he explain the knowledge he possessed without revealing that he had been a prisoner, however briefly, of those traitors? The King, Don Rodrigo and his wife, and even Sir Edmund would sooner see him back in California than permit him to face the danger. They were with good intentions, Felipe thought with an inward smile, but he was not about to give up his stay in Madrid in such a short time. And he would most certainly miss the company of Sir Edmund's niece, Lady Rachel.

Meanwhile, on the other side of Madrid, the lady in question was out shopping. She wished Felipe could be with her. The young man was becoming dear to her heart and she wanted to keep an eye on him, to make sure that he would not get in trouble.

Just as she was about to return to her apartment, she caught sight of a strange figure. The weather was not cold, but he was fully cloaked and had a hood pulled down, covering his entire face. Normally she would dismiss anything that did not directly concern her, but she got creeps just by looking at the hooded man. She decided to follow him, to see if her fear was warranted.

Lady Rachel instantly regretted her decision. To her horror, the hooded man turned, and came back toward her, either because the man had eyes in his back, or Rachel was not very discrete as she had thought she was.

"May I help you, Seņorita?" the man asked with fake sincerity.

Rachel forced herself to stay calm. Don't admit anything, she told herself.

"Why, yes, Seņor. I was wondering why you wear this type of cloth. Are you a new friar?"

Despite the fact that most of his features were not visible, the man was obviously taken back. He had believed she was following him, but the girl had smoothly answered his question (not the reaction of someone who was caught doing something wrong). He realized he had made a mistake by confronting her too soon. If he was going to kidnap her, he had to somehow lure her to come along. He could not just carry her off in the middle of a crowded plaza.

"I am, Seņorita. Now if you will excuse me, I am late for the service." Without waiting for an answer, he hurried off in the same direction as he did before.

Fortunately, Lady Rachel was anything but a fool. She saw right through his scheme to get her to follow him again, so that he could deal with her later, at some place away from prying eyes. She kept a weary eye on his retreating back until it disappeared from view and practically ran back to her apartment. Once safely inside, Rachel shuddered at the close call she had. How stupid of me, she berated herself. And I warned Felipe not to take unnecessary risks!

Felipe snapped back to the present at the sound of the King asking him some question. He blinked rapidly, embarrassed that he had not been paying attention as much as he should.

"I am terribly sorry, Your Majesty. Did you ask me something?"

"Oh, nothing important." His Majesty waved his hand dismissively. "I was just curious as to when exactly you went to sleep last night."

Felipe was confused. He was sure the King hadn't been discussing his sleeping habits. For once, the quick-thinking Felipe was without words.

Seeing that Felipe was still quiet, the King said accusingly, "You were not listening to me, young man! You probably did not hear a word I said. Your mind was somewhere far away, and your eyes were half-closed. If I do not know better, I would say you find me boring."

Felipe swallowed hard, horrified. The last thing he wanted to do was to offend the King of Spain.

"I..." Felipe stammered. It would not help him to find any excuse now. "Please accept my deepest apologies, Your Majesty. I had barely settled in my room at the university. Today I stopped by at Don Rodrigo's house only because I believed my visit would be brief. I was not prepared to come to meet you, and had told Don Rodrigo so, but since you were expecting me, I knew I could not keep the King of Spain waiting. I did hear most of what Your Majesty related. If His Majesty wishes, I could recount..."

"No need to do that," the King interrupted, unable to keep a stern face any longer. "I know you to be a reliable young man, and you do look indeed tired. I shall not detain you any longer," the King said kindly, putting his hand on Felipe's shoulder. "We shall continue our talk at a later time, when you do get more rest." His eyes firmly held those of the younger man.

"Thank you, Your Majesty." Felipe bowed gracefully. "I am very sorry for my misconduct and grateful for the opportunity to redeem myself."

"Don't mention it, Felipe. Just tell me the best time for us to meet again."

Felipe's eyes met those of Don Rodrigo, silently asking for his help. However, his host gave an almost imperceptible shake of his head, indicating that the young man was on his own on that one.

"I don't dare telling Your Majesty when to meet, but I'll be ready whenever I'm summoned." Felipe held his breath, praying that he had said the right thing.

To Felipe's relief, the King smiled. "I begin to like you, Felipe, just as I like your father Diego." Then His Majesty turned to address Don Rodrigo. "I will send word the next time we will meet."

Felipe blushed slightly at the compliment from the King. For the boy who had lost both of his original parents, the King's words meant the world to him.

Don Rodrigo thanked the King for spending time with him, his wife, and especially with Felipe, then they took their leave.

Once back at home, Don Rodrigo called the young man to his private study. It was obvious to him that something was troubling his young houseguest. The don decided against rebuking Felipe for his almost rude behavior in the presence of the King, since the young man looked distracted enough as it was, but he could not resisted commenting, "You seem distant, Felipe. Is there any difficulties you care to share with us?"

"Difficulties? Where did you get that idea, Don Rodrigo?" Felipe feigned ignorance, something that was almost like a second nature to him.

"Don't play games with me, young man. Anxiety and nervousness are clearly written all over your face. You are going to stay with us for a while, so I would appreciate your clarification on the matter."

Again, Felipe swallowed with difficulty, he realized that he had no way out. "You are right. I am nervous," he admitted. "I was a strange lad in this country, and you might find this silly, Seņor, but I am afraid of this city, something of the unknown, even though my father reassured me that I would have a great time here and everyone in Madrid has been very nice and has warmly welcomed me."

"Oh, is that all? You obviously don't inherit the courage of your father," his host said in a good-natured contempt. "That Diego, I lost count of how many duels he fought."

"As much as it pains me, I'm afraid I am not that brave," Felipe lied, wincing for a good measure. He hoped his host would never learn of his recent fight with a drunkard.

"Never fear then, we brought you to live with us to protect you from any harm." He admitted that parts of what Felipe told him were true, but as for the rest, he was convinced otherwise. Still, the young man probably had his reasons for keeping his secrets, and as long as he did not do anything foolish, Don Rodrigo was contented to only observe and not intervene.

Felipe knew he had not fooled the wise old don, but he had no idea what else to say. Well, his father used to tell him that some things were better left unsaid. Besides, Don Rodrigo needed not be told more than necessary.

"I'm grateful, Seņor, but I would have to get my cloths and personal effects from the university. With your permission." Felipe bowed.

"Do you prefer that someone go with you? It will be dark soon."

"With all due respect, Seņor, I would rather be alone. After all that I have learned today, I need some quiet time to clear my head."

His host nodded. "Be back before dinner then."

"I will." Felipe smiled at his host.

"God be with you, cousin," Don Rodrigo said softly after Felipe left the room.

Much had happened that day. Felipe was almost bursting from the number of secrets he was keeping hidden and the amount of information he had received. If the first day with Don Rodrigo was as hard as this, how could he manage to survive living with his cousin for two weeks? True, Don Rodrigo and Dona Dolores would wish the best for him, but the problem was, did they *know* what was best for him? He would not like to be trapped in their house, which was safe but did not offer him any freedom to come and go as he chose. Also, how could he live under his cousin's roof and have to constantly lie to him about many things? How could they live together without trust?

Unfortunately, Felipe did not have the chance to find out the answers to these disturbing questions just yet. When he arrived at the University, Felipe was told that he had a visitor waiting. He was surprised. Who would know to call on me at the university? he kept asking himself as he walked to meet his "visitor."

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