The weather was beautiful, clear, bright and slightly frosty. A gentle covering of snow early Sunday morning started the next day in a quiet mood but everything went as planned. The wedding took place the tenth under stormy skies. In spite of the showers and sleet there were gay processions, and games of all sorts. St. George’s Chapel at Windsor was filled to capacity. And of course, Queen Victoria, even though still in mourning, was there. Fireworks that night crowned off the evening.
The stormy weather lasted until the twentieth. Bernice stayed in England and saw the royal party off. She had other relatives there, she told herself, whom she had neglected on her last visit. It was with them that she had spent that fateful summer of her youth when she had first fallen in love. She had much to share with them; it seemed to her almost a lifetime.
On the twenty first, the day was bright and cold, with a strong North wind clearing the skies. That evening every star in the sky seemed to have come out to compete with each other for a chance to display its glory. But none counted on the Aurora making its appearance; and its beauty outdid them all. It was that night, while she was outside admiring the sky that the Spaniard returned.
They walked together around Park Wood, on the edge of the hill overlooking Guisborough. Twenty paces behind them followed the tall figure of his faithful Worthington. “I have written to Lord Russell and Buchanan. Hiring that man as attendant to the Prime Minister shows a singular disregard for the security of the Crown. Cursory investigations in France would have revealed his questionable past. If the Danes ever found this out, that this is how their Princess’ safety is safeguarded, they would not be happy.”
“I did not even have time to thank you, or Lady Masveh.”
The Spaniard waved a hand. “It is… our profession.”
“Your men, they think they work for the Comte de Saint Germain.”
“It does not matter by what name they know me. They never remember my face, and that is as it should be. But they do know, as I know, that each has served his country and the civilized world with valor.”
Bernice had to close her eyes at the memory of the Portuguese young man that had given his life saving hers.
Santiago understood the shiver that accompanied the closing of those beautiful eyes. He moistened his lips, wondering how to say what he wanted to say. The edge of those long eyelashes glistened with tears that she barely managed to hold back. He exhaled a long breath and started.
“Cada guaraguao tiene su pitirre.” She looked up at the sound of the unfamiliar words. “It is a Puerto Rican saying: Every hawk has his pitirre. You see, the hawk thinks he owns the sky, that he can pick off any rabbit on the ground or bird on the wing. But there is this small gray bird, the people call a pitirre, from the sound of its call. It is fiercely territorial. When the hawk crosses into its domain it rushes at the great bird and swings up from underneath, straight at its belly. Over and over again it attacks, small, agile and every time striking at the weak belly of the king of the sky. If the hawk does not leave, it will be mortally wounded.
“The whole animal kingdom is a chain of checks and balances. The large cone snails of the tropics inject a poison that can kill a man in minutes. They are preyed upon by another of their own species that actually drills through their shell to poison them.
“Doctor, we live in a balanced world. And when something attempts to disturb that balance, when a force from outside tries to wreak havoc within it, Nature reacts. It is like your body. Surely you believe what the scientists are just starting to suspect: that a fever is not the sickness but the body rebelling against an invasion. Plunge a foreign object into your skin and the area swells, hardens, puckers and pushes. Every reaction is directed at isolating the intrusion and excising it.”
The Spaniard had her full attention. They stopped by a bench and sat down. “Doctor, I know a man who can speak to and understand the speech of animals. I know a man in New Orleans, a handsome black man. I am sure you have seen his type in your travels through Africa, skin so dark you’d swear there is a blue hue to it. He used to be a slave; a gentle man. His bones must be as hard as steel, his skin tougher than a bull’s hide. I know another man who cannot burn.
“They are Nature’s reaction to an intrusion, an evil, you would call it, that seeks to destroy all civilization.”
“It is my calling to bring them together, rally them to the battle. I can recognize them, see something – it is hard to describe – call it an aura, just on the fringes of conscious perception. But it tells me they are different. It may be I see a glimpse of their soul.”
“Señor, you speak of a soul and yet deny its Maker.”
“I would be a fool to think there is not something inside man that makes us different from the animals. It simply is. I do not pretend to understand it or to believe that it is immortal.”
“You, doctor,” he hesitated for a moment. “You have the mightiest soul I have ever seen.”
Those words surprised her and stirred up feelings inside her that she had to quench immediately. She had to get up and put physical distance between him and her. “What use is it to you?” She could scarcely believe she had asked that question. She kept her face averted.
“I need you, doctor.” He paused involuntarily, struck by the all too plain double meaning of that statement. He stood up. “I need you to fight by my side; but not now. The enemy I face is too dangerous, too ruthless, too unpredictable. This I must do alone.”
“And what about your army?”
“If I do not succeed, another will rise to take my place.”
Those words drew her eyes back to him. If he saw the tinge of alarm in them he did not acknowledge it. She had to ask. “You mean Monsieur Elias and Lady Masveh?”
“No, no. They have an altogether different mission of their own. Our paths cross occasionally. We… help each other.” His gray eyes relaxed for a moment. “Doctor, I intend to live, believe me. I simply do not hold any romantic notions that my success is guaranteed. That’s not the way the world works.”
“No, it’s not.”
Her agreement surprised him. But it was instantly clear from the steel in her eyes that she meant those words in a different way. He could not understand her world, someday he would try. But for now it was best if she was as far away as possible from him. Still, her choice of those words, defiant as he knew them to be, assured him that she would respect his will. That’s all he could ask of such a woman, for now.
Then she spoke again. “If the connection is to be severed, for my safety, then I assume you will assign me no more bodyguards.” There was a deliberate sting in those words that Santiago felt and Bernice instantly regretted. “They would be a distraction and an unwarranted risk on the secrecy of your plan.” Even that explanation, meant to soften her comment, was uttered with an edge she had not intended, at least not in her heart. Bernice turned away, as much from his eyes as from the turmoil that was tearing at her and breeding an anger that was taking over her tongue.
“You are right, of course. Good night, doctor.” The Spaniard hesitated for a moment, lingering in hopes of another look into those green eyes.
She tried to speak again. But the words would not come. She found her chest heaving, her lips shivering, her heart racing. Clenched teeth and fist, and a deliberate shaking of her head, forced her back in control long enough to say: “Farewell, Señor.” But she could not turn to face him. She just walked away, listening to his footsteps receding in the night, every step echoing deeply within the emptiness that suddenly seemed to be consuming her heart.