Castillians Don't Always Get the Girl
by Vicki Kirchhoff-Martin

   "Reinhard, do you hear that?" Rodrigo asked, nudging his companion.

   Deeply engrossed in some intriguing aspects of the architecture of a local building, Reinhard did not immediately reply. Whatever it was, Rodrigo was interested in, it probably had a fair face and soft skin.

   "Drums, Reinhard," the Castillian insisted. "Execution drums, if I'm not mistaken."

   Reinhard snorted and did not look away from what he was studying. "Why do you care if the Montaigne are executing someone? What's another dead Montaigne to you?"

   Rodrigo pulled on his companion's arm. "We are in Barcino, amigo. If they are executing someone, it is probably one of my countrymen."

   Reinhard let himself be pulled along though he knew it would only mean trouble. "And what will you do when we get there? Take on the entire Montaigne contingent?"

   "If I have to. There are rights to be wronged, amigo."

   "And women to impress, perhaps?" Reinhard asked.

   Rodrigo grinned, "Perhaps."

   The two slipped quietly through the streets until they arrived at the square and the sound of the drums. In the center of the square stood a well-used gallows. A crowd had gathered around it and through them passed a line of Montaigne soldiers surrounding a bound and shabbily dressed Castillian man.

   Reinhard wondered why they had bothered to bind him since he could barely walk. His face was black and blue with bruises, his eyes nearly swollen shut. His lower lip was crusted with blood and he stumbled with his escort as best he could.

   He noticed that Rodrigo's hand was poised over the hilt of his sword. "You don't even know what this man is being accused of."

   "It doesn't matter. He's a countryman," the Castillian said.

   "Yes and he is still bound, barely walking and in the center of about a dozen Montaigne guards," Reinhard reminded him. "Rodrigo please, I think it's a little late to try to talk them out of this."

   The prisoner was brought to the gallows while one of the soldiers read aloud the charges. The most serious of them were treason and espionage. Reinhard could see Rodrigo's wire thin frame nearly vibrating. The Castillian's desire to help one of his countrymen was understandable but there were many people and a full dozen Montaigne soldiers between them and the condemned man. If he had been given time, perhaps he could have come up with a way but spur of the moment like this, he was at a loss. Still, he knew his friend would need his support. He put his foot into the stirrup of his crossbow and drew the string back.

   "You can do nothing for him by throwing your life away, you know," he said. "You will simply add your blood to his."

   Rodrigo spit. "It is not my way to stand idle, amigo."

   He glanced down at his friend's crossbow. "Think you can hit that rope from here?"

   "I can," Reinhard said. "But is has to be timed correctly. If the rope isn't taut the bolt won't sever it."

   The noose was tightened around the condemned man's neck. The soldier had finished reading the charges and was headed back off the gallows. Only the executioner remained and his eyes were on the leader of the regiment and the rapier he held aloft Reinhard raised the crossbow and slid a bolt into place. He did some calculations in his head and put his hand on the tickler. There was a restlessness amongst the spectators. A charcoal grey horse sprang into the crowd, scattering them. Astride it was a figure in black breeches, a purple doublet and hat and a white mask. A long purple cloak flowed behind him.

   "El Vago," Rodrigo whispered reverently along with much of the crowd. "Who would have thought Ramon would be here."

   "Ramon isn't El Vago," Reinhard said.

   "Of course he is, amigo. We've met him before."

   The leader of the regiment let the rapier drop, the executioner released the trap door and the condemned man fell. El Vago spurred his horse beneath the gallows and the prisoner, instead of dangling from the rope, landed in front of the vagabond on his saddle. The masked man sliced the noose with his rapier and then urged his horse on. The crowd parted to let him through but congealed again as the Montaigne soldiers gave pursuit, hindering their efforts.

   "That was definitely not Ramon," Reinhard said, lowering his crossbow.

   There was the sound of a shot. El Vago lurched forward on his steed and lost his balance, tumbling from the saddle. The condemned man held on for his life as the horse carried him off and away from his rescuer. Without his horseback advantage, the vagabond had to force his way through the crowd whose adorations were hindering his escape. Rodrigo's rapier slid from its sheath. "Come on, my friend. He is far outnumbered. It wouldn't be fair for him to face so many soldiers without help."

   "You'll be the death of me, Rodrigo," Reinhard said, but he followed his friend into the fray.

   The first of the soldiers were nearly upon El Vago by the time they got close. The vagabond turned and took up a mostly defensive stance, his left arm dangling useless at his side. The poorly trained soldiers might have been no match one on one with him but he was outnumbered and wounded. Reinhard was close enough to see the wet black stain spreading over the purple velvet of his coat at his left shoulder. "Make it quick," he said to his companion. "He's losing a lot of blood."

   He fired his crossbow as Rodrigo leapt into the fray. The Castillian's blade moved like a wild thing, batting aside the weapons of the soldiers. He moved in between them and El Vago, giving the vagabond an avenue for escape. Reinhard slung his bow at his hip and tapped the shoulder of the nearest soldier. When the man turned around, he landed a solid punch to the side of his face that crumpled him like a rag doll. He then gently touched El Vago's right elbow. "Come with me," The vagabond looked unsure, but the death that awaited him at the hands of the Montaigne was a certainty and Reinhard appeared to be his only other option. He sheathed his blade and followed in silence.

   Rodrigo kept the soldiers busy, but cast an occasional glance in the direction Reinhard had taken Ramon. He was a bit surprised to have found him much shorter and slighter than he remembered. It did not matter. He was fighting for the heart and soul of Castille. He pushed the Montaigne soldiers back into the crowd where they were set upon and beaten by the people.

   Taking advantage of the riot, Rodrigo left the combat and followed in the direction his friend had taken El Vago. As they wound through the city streets, Reinhard wished they had time to stop. Beside him, El Vago's breathing was getting more and more labored and his pace slowing. He was still losing blood. There was a gaping hole in the back of his left shoulder where the pistol ball had entered and blood was still flowing freely. The bleeding needed to be stopped, but it would do him no good to tend to the vagabond's wounds only to have him caught by the soldiers out in the open. Of course if he collapsed from lack of blood, it wouldn't matter. He was torn between wanting to aid the man quickly and wanting to make certain he would not be captured.

   El Vago was beginning to stumble when Rodrigo caught up to them. He immediately shoved his shoulder under the vagabond's uninjured right arm and half carried the man at a much faster pace than Reinhard could have managed alone.

   Rodrigo was amazed at how slight the vagabond was. Surely this was not Ramon. Ramon was nearly Rodrigo's height and weight and this man was shorter than himself by quite a bit and weighed no more than a young boy. He also remembered Ramon's jacket as being leather and not velvet. Something was amiss. There would be time for answers later, now was time to get him back to their room at the inn where Reinhard could tend to his wounds in safety.

   Reinhard finally decided that something had to be done soon or they were going to lose their companion. He stopped in an alley. "Quickly now, I think our pursuit may have lost us for the moment."

   El Vago was barely conscious as they gently laid him down on the street. "Take off your shirt, Rodrigo," Reinhard said, " and get his jacket off. I need to get to the wound."

   The look on Reinhard's face stopped the Castillian's protest even though he was wearing one of his favorite shirts. He pulled it off and handed it to his friend then reached for the buttons on El Vago's velvet jacket. He was quite surprised by the stinging slap across his face and the very feminine heavily Montaigne accented voice saying, "Don't touch me!"

   Reinhard, focussed on ripping Rodrigo's shirt into pieces did not seem to have noticed. Rodrigo took a good look at the masked face in front of him. Ramon's eyes were brown and Ramon would certainly not have slapped him for trying to help. Beneath the mask, very feminine sapphire blue eyes with heavy black lashes struggled to stay open. He leaned closer so that his words would be heard only by her. "Reinhard is a doctor," he said. "If you do not let us help you, you will bleed to death. If we wanted you dead or in the hands of the Montaigne, we would not have dragged you so far. Please, trust us."

   She did not respond. Reinhard had rolled up his sleeves and had his hands full of cloth strips, "Dammit, Rodrigo, I need his jacket off. I can't get in there to examine the wound otherwise."

   Gently, keeping his eyes on hers, Rodrigo reached again for the buttons. This time, there was no resistance. Whether she was too exhausted to resist or had acquiesced, he was not sure, but he was as gentle as he could possibly be. Even so, he heard her breath hiss through her teeth as he pulled the jacket over the injured shoulder. She did not scream.

   "I have to get the bleeding stopped," Reinhard said folding the strips of cloth. If we can just get that done, we can get him into the inn and I can work on getting everything closed up. If he loses too much blood, we'll lose him."

   "If that's what you needed the strips for, amigo, why didn't you ask me for my bandages?"

   "You had bandages?" Reinhard asked.

   "In my pack. I always carry them."

   Reinhard sighed. "Never mind."

   With the jacket off, Rodrigo could see that the entire left side of the white shirt beneath was crimson with her blood. Any thoughts that this might have been Ramon vanished because the figure shown clearly by the clinging shirt, was definitely not male.

   "All right, my friend," Reinhard said. "Just hold him up so we can get that shoulder elevated and I'll..."

   He paused for a moment and briefly stared at the woman in front of him. He glanced up at Rodrigo and then back at the wound. There was no time. The blood had to be stopped. If they didn't do it soon, their companion wouldn't be alive to answer any of their questions. "This packing should stop the bleeding, I hope or at least slow it down. The ball appears to have passed all the way though which is a good thing."

   El Vago did not struggle as Rodrigo held her and Reinhard applied the dressing. Rodrigo was still not certain if it was by choice or by weakness. Like his companion, he was concerned by the amount of blood on the shirt. Reinhard packed the front and back of the shoulder in the pieces of cloth. "This is going to hurt, frauleine," he whispered to her as he applied pressure to both side of the wound. Seeing what the doctor was about to do, Rodrigo slipped his hand under the white mask and covered El Vago's mouth. This time, she did scream but it was muffled. Reinhard muttered apologies to her. "The pressure will stop the bleeding. It is the only way. I'm sorry, fraulein. I'm so very sorry."

   That pain seemed to have been more than she could take. The blue eyes fluttered closed and she went limp in Rodrigo's arms. He looked up at his friend. "Reinhard?"

   There was a pause as the Eisen put a hand on her throat. "She's alive, but we have to get her inside. Keep pressure on this. I'll find a cloak to wrap her in. We can't stay out here." He stood. "That mask is going to have to come off." He held up his hand stop Rodrigo's protest. "Everyone in the inn has seen or at least heard of El Vago. The story will spread that he is there and we won't be able to keep her safe. It's also hindering her breathing. It's for her own good, Rodrigo. I just hope we'll be able to convince her of that."

   Rodrigo nodded and gently slipped the mask off. Underneath was raven hair and fair skin of a young Montaigne woman. She could not have been much more than twenty. She was too fair, he thought for there was no color at all in her cheeks and her breathing was shallow and uneasy. He gazed down at her in wonder, not at her beauty, for though she was beautiful, he was still having a difficult time with the fact that she had ridden as El Vago. There was a theory that perhaps there was more than one El Vago. He knew Ramon had worn the white mask but that this woman, this Montaigne woman could have done so was a difficult thing for Rodrigo to wrap his mind around. It didn't make sense.

   He smoothed a stray wisp of hair away from her face. He had no doubts that she was Montaigne, but she had risked her own life to save one convicted by her people as a traitor and a spy. "I'm sure you have quite the story to tell, senorita."

   Reinhard was not long. He returned with a long black cloak. "Wrap her in this. I've told the innkeeper she was trampled by the riot and he's been paid not to ask me any more questions." He stopped as he saw her face and frowned. "I hope we are not too late, my friend. She is horribly pale."

   They wrapped her in the cloak. Rodrigo tucked the white leather mask in his jacket and then picked her up. She weighed almost nothing. He followed Reinhard though the back door of the inn and up the stairs to their room.

   Once there, Reinhard was in charge, sending Rodrigo off for this thing or that while he worked on the injury. Mercifully, she remained unconscious and Rodrigo was thankful to be running errands for his friend instead of watching his work. Seeing the perfect white skin marred by such an ugly gaping wound was almost more than he could bear. When the Eisen finally stood, the chamber pot was full of blood soaked rags. "If she does not die from blood loss, we may lose her from fever," he said shaking his head. "But I have done all I can for her. It's up to her now."

   Rodrigo thought he saw perhaps the faintest blush of color in her cheeks now but it could have just been a trick of the light. To spare her modesty, Reinhard had simply cut her shirt away from her wounded area, but now the blood was beginning to dry and it was sticking to her skin. The two men glanced at each other. Reinhard sighed and they carefully removed it, cleaned her off and then put one of Reinhard's shirts back on her. She did not stir. They then wrapped her old clothing in the cloak they had used to bring her upstairs.

   "What do we do now, amigo?" Rodrigo asked.

   "She is in your Theus' hands now, my friend. We will simply have to wait."

   Reinhard tried to keep his eyes open. He had had a few hours' sleep while Rodrigo kept watch but now that it was just after dawn, he was starting to nod. Perhaps he would check on his patient one last time and wake Rodrigo up. A knock on the door changed his mind. "Who is it?" he asked.

   "A friend," came the response.

   He tossed his boot at Rodrigo to wake him. The Castillian shot to his feet, tangling himself in his sword and blankets. Reinhard put his finger to his lips and motioned his companion to the other side of the door as he cracked it open. The small Castillian woman at the door was dressed in rags with a long cloak on her back that was obviously hiding several large bulges. She bowed slightly. "My name is Rosario, senor." She leaned into the crack of the door. "I am a friend of the Dona."

   Reinhard remained suspicious. "There is no Dona here, my friend." He said. "You must be mistaken."

   "Est ce que vous, Rosario?" came a weak voice from the room.

   The woman at the door perked up visibly at the sound. "Yes, Dona."

   Reinhard glanced over at Rodrigo who was now trying to pull his pants on without dropping the blanket from around his waist. He then glanced back at the lady who was struggling to pull herself into a sitting position. Her face was still very pale "Please," she said. "Let her in."

   Reinhard opened the door and let the woman inside and then quickly closed it behind her. She went immediately to the lady's side and unslung two large bags from her shoulders. The concern on her face at her condition was easy to read as she began unpacking.

   "How did you find us?" Rodrigo asked.

   Rosario smiled. "All of the city is searching for an injured man. I am the only one who knew to look for an injured woman." She laid a homespun chemise and skirt on the lady's bed along with a shawl and some ragged boots. "I also noticed your friend's Rose and Cross tabard when you fled the square. It wasn't difficult to find you." The lady sorted through the clothes. "Leave me, please. I need to dress."

   Reinhard looked at Rosario and then at the lady. "You are not strong enough to stand yet, Madame."

   She winced as she threw the blankets aside. "I am and I will," she said. "Now, though I forgive you for removing my clothes last night, I will not have you watch me dress this morning."

   "Please, senors," Rosario said trying to urge them out the door. "It is best not to argue with her."

   Against their better judgement, Reinhard and Rodrigo allowed themselves to be led out into the hall. Rosario closed the door. "What will you do when she collapses in the middle of the street?" Rheinhard whispered angrily. "She is in no shape to travel. She should not leave bed for days."

   Rosario sighed. "I agree with you, senor. I am hoping she will not make it out of the room. The Dona is very stubborn."

   Riderigo leaned against the wall. "It would be a pity for her to ruin all the good work Reinhard did on her."

   "Please, senors," Rosario said, "understand that I greatly appreciate all that you have done. There is no way I could have gotten to her in time to assist her as you did, but this has happened before... not quite so serious a wound, but it has happened. She is very... passionate."

   "I should say so," Reinhard said. He was not at all happy that the woman was willing to risk her life so soon after they had worked so hard to save it simply for her own stubbornness. He was quite surprised that she was even awake so soon after everything, let alone able to stand. There was a soft thud from the room. Reinhard reached for the door immediately, but Rosario stopped him. "Dona?" she called through the closed door.

   There was no answer. Rodrigo pulled Rosario away from the door and Reinhard opened it. The lady lay in a heap on the floor beside her bed. She had managed to dress herself but that was all. Reinhard scooped her up gently and placed her back on the bed. The wound did not seem to have reopened, but what little color she had recovered was gone. He swore in Eisen and covered her.

   To his surprise, Rosario looked relieved. "Thank Theus."

   "I will see what I can do to arrange some kind of transport for her and decide what to tell the others at the house. Where are her things?"

   Reinhard realized that Rosario was taking control as if she had done this many times. He pointed to the pile concealed in the black cloak. The small servant thanked him and began sorting through it. She began stuffing the purple velvet costume into the now empty bags. "It is going to take me forever to get the bloodstains out this time," she said. "And I hope I can repair the hole."

   She glanced up from her packing. "The mask, senors? I do not see it here."

   Rodrigo handed her the white leather mask. She withdrew a flat wooden box. from one of the bags. It was lined inside with purple velvet. She reverently placed the mask inside and closed it. It then went into the bag. "Please, tell me what happened, senors," she said as she continued packing. "I had to deal with the horse and the prisoner. I have no idea what happened to the Dona."

   Reinhard let Rodrigo spin the tale. The Castillian loved to talk. He checked the lady again for fever and made sure she had not gotten any worse. He also checked to make sure the wound had not reopened. She did seem to be sleeping soundly again, her breathing steady.

   "Who is she?" Rodrigo asked when he had finished his tale.

   "I may not tell you that, senor," Rosario replied.

   "She should probably not stay here," Reinhard said. "I'd rather not have her deciding to walk out again. She'll likely fall down the stairs and break her silly neck."

   "Can't you drug her, Reinhard?" Rodrigo asked.

   He shook his head, "With as much blood as she's lost, I'd be afraid to give her anything."

   "You are a doctor, senor?" Rosario asked.

   "Amongst other things," Reinhard replied.

   "How bad is the injury?"

   "Not as bad as it could have been certainly. The pistol ball passed right through the flesh without touching the bone. I've sewn up what I could, but it's the blood loss and the risk of fever that has me concerned."

   "Hmmm," Rosario said again. "So even if I manage to get her home, she will still require the care of a doctor?"

   "Definitely for the first few days," Reinhard said. "And then to remove the stitches."

   Rosario paused and thought. "I am again grateful for all you have done for the Dona, but might I ask, Senor doctor, if you and your companion would be willing to stay with her until such time as you feel your services are no longer needed?"

   Reinhard brushed a stray wisp of hair away from the lady's face and put his hand on her skin to check her for fever. He was half waiting for Rodrigo to agree for him, but his companion remained silent, looking to him for the response. "I will stay," he said. Rodrigo said nothing and looked away and Reinhard wondered if he had made the right decision.

   "Very well then," Rosario said. "I have an idea."

   Fleurette awoke in a jostling carriage. She winced as she bumped her left shoulder into something and then her eyes snapped open as she realised it wasn't the side of the carriage. The carriage she was in was not hers and from what she quickly noticed out the window, they were on their way to her home. Rosario sat across from her along with a slight dark haired, dark eyed Castillian man in a Rose and Cross tabard. Beside her sat a slightly larger bespeckled Eisen with brown hair and intense blue eyes. Both strangers had goatees which were certainly not the current Montaigne fashion. "How do you feel, Dona?" Rosario asked.

   It took her a few moments to answer. She felt light headed and dizzy. Her left shoulder ached and burned and any touch sent fiery pain shooting into her arm. She had vague fuzzy memories of her ride of the previous evening and thought perhaps the two strangers were involved but she wasn't certain. "I am well," she lied. "A bit tired, I suppose but otherwise well. Are we on our way to meet Major Larisse?"

   Rosario shot cautious looks at the two strangers. "Dona, we are well past that meeting time. I sent the major your apologies and said you would meet with him again when you were better."

   She gripped the side of the carriage with her right hand. Sometimes Rosario's over-protectiveness went too far and that meeting had been important to the remaining prisoners of the Montaigne garrison. "I am fine, Rosario," she said angrily. "There was no need to reschedule. You should have awakened me earlier."

   "We did wake you, Dona," Rosario said calmly. "You only managed a few steps before falling unconscious again."

   "You did lose a great deal of blood last night," the dark haired man said.

   "And who are you?" she demanded. The pain was making her irritable as was the lack of memory of much of the previous night and her weakened state. The lighter haired man beside her spoke soothingly. "Madame, I am Reinhard Krugerannd at your service. My companion, Rodrigo Salamanca and I aided you yesterday. I am a doctor amongst other things."

   "Thank you," she sighed, trying to sort things out. "How much do they know, Rosario?" she asked in Montaigne.

   "I am not entirely certain, Dona," Rosario replied. "I have not had much of a chance to speak with them. That they know what you were doing last night, I am certain for they aided your escape. What they know beyond that..."

   "We know little other than that, Madame," Reinhard said. "But we have not nor do we intend on telling anyone else. No one else knows how you injured your shoulder except for Rosario."

   His eyes were calming and Fleurette felt herself flushing under his concern. She had thought she was beyond such school girl reactions since she had lost Henrique and put it down to her weakened condition and gratitude to the man who had obviously saved her life. She returned her attention to Rosario.

   "Why are they still with us? Messieurs, please do not think I am not grateful for the assistance you provided me but I would have preferred to be done with it at the Inn."

   "Your arm still needs the care of a doctor. I didn't think you would want another one knowing the extent of your injury. I told Major Larisse and the household that Etoile was startled and threw you as you took your evening ride. Senor Salamanca, the Rose and Cross knight, found you unconscious on the ground and took you to the only doctor he knew, Senor Kreugerannd. When they discovered who you were, they sent to the house immediately and Senor Salamanca contacted the local Rose and Cross members to arrange for carriage and escort to bring you home."

   Fleurette's head was beginning to pound. Rosario had always doctored her before. Why was this different? She had to have some other reason for keeping the two gentlemen around. "That is why I am so glad you are with me, Rosario," she said for lack of anything better. "But if they already know I am injured, why keep the doctor?"

   "Dona," Reinhard said. "Any doctor qualified to treat you would quickly realise that you have been shot. Your lady here thought it best if that information remain a secret. I agree."

   She nodded. She was beginning to feel faint again and was afraid she might pass out. She cursed her weakness and struggled to remain alert. "Etoile," she said. "What happened to Etoile. Did Antonio get away?"

   "Antonio is fine, Dona," Rosario replied. "He is safe and in the hands of those who will care for him. Etoile has been washed and groomed and was eating quite contentedly when I left her, though a bit annoyed and not having her morning ride with you today."

   She sighed. At least there was some good news. "What of the others? I have to get to Major Larisse soon or there will be nothing I can do for them."

   "Dona," Reinhard said. "I suggest you go nowhere other than bed for at least a few days. Your body needs to remake all the blood that it lost and you will be very weak until it does."

   She could feel her anger rising again. "I will not rest while others are hanged, Monsieur. Not when I could possibly prevent it."

   His eyes never lost their calm or their concern. "The villagers tore down the gallows in the square, Dona. There will be no hangings until they are reconstructed and you will simply delay your own healing if you don't rest. Please."

   "No hangings?" she asked.

   "Not for quite some time," he assured her. "They are still searching house to house for El Vago. They won't have the manpower to reconstruct the gallows until they have given up."

   That made her smile. The major would have his men searching for days but they would never find what they were seeking..

   "She is fading again, Senor Kreugerannd," she heard Rosario say. She felt a cool hand on her forehead. "There is no fever," she heard the Eisen say. "She's simply worn herself out." She did not hear Rosario's response.

to be continued...