"STORM AT SEA"
The journey to Cadiz was uneventful except for Zafira's silent brooding the entire week. Diego grew accustomed to the cold shoulder she showed him during the day. But at night. . . He closed his eyes as if to block out his feelings of frustration to the rebuffs she was giving him in bed.
He was up on the deck of the ship, staring out at the deep blue water of the Atlantic Ocean. Its color reminded Diego of the blue of his wife's eyes and he groaned aloud.
The previous evening, their last night on the continent before setting sail, he has teasingly reminded her at bedtime of her ‘wifely duty'. Diego had not been at all prepared for the ferocity of Zafira's response.
"I am fulfilling my ‘wifely duty'," she had nearly spat at him. "I'm coming with you, aren't I? I'm leaving my home and my family just to make you happy. Isn't that enough for you?"
Diego had been too shock to say anything for several minutes. By the time his brain could come up with a reply, she had pulled the bedcovers up over her head and turned her back to him. Quietly he finished undressing and got into the bed, lying still beside her, throbbing with frustration.
When had everything gone wrong? It still didn't make sense that she was so upset about traveling to California with him. It was what they had planned to do anyway, but in June instead of now. Why was the two months' difference such a bone of contention?
He shook his head slightly. He had hoped that once they were out at sea, she would realize she had no choice but to accept his decision. That maybe she would even become excited about the new land that would soon be her home. Diego had pledged to himself the night before they set sail to do everything he could to make her see that California was not a place she had to fear.
He would tell her stories of his boyhood, of the rugged beauty of the land itself, of his father and Felipe. He would even tell her of his mother if it came to that. How the beautiful daughter of wealth and privilege had found love and happiness in the rough and sometimes brutal territory of Alta California. Of course, he would not tell her of Felicidad de la Vega's death due to childbirth. It was a subject he could not bear to share with anyone.
As Diego watched the sun sink down into the western horizon, he shook his head again. So far his plan had not been implemented. Zafira had so far spent the whole day aboard the vessel being ill. Since she had never been at sea before, she had no idea she was susceptible to the dreaded mal de mar. He could hardly find fault with her for that. Just because he was a seasoned ocean traveler who was never afflicted with sea sickness, it didn't mean his wife would be the same way.
Slowly, he made his way down to their cabin. He was afraid of leaving her alone for too long, but he had just had to get out of the stuffy, foul-smelling tiny room for a few minutes. Diego had tried to convince Zafira that the fresh air would do her good as well but she refused to even consider it.
Diego sighed deeply as he reached the cabin's door. It wasn't going to be a pleasant time these next few months if things continued this way. He opened the door and stepped into the small room.
Zafira was on the bed, looking pale. Diego immediately felt contrite. His poor querida, lying there so ill all this time, while he was thinking such unkind things about her. She really did look terrible.
"How are you feeling, mi preciosa?" he asked solicitously. He sat down on the edge of the bed and place his large hand on her forehead.
"I just want to die," she moaned as she closed her eyes and put her own hand to her stomach.
Diego glanced over at the untouched tea and dry toast he had brought to her after lunch. "You might feel better if you had something to eat," he suggested.
Zafira's answer was to groan again and quickly bring her other hand up to her mouth. "I can't," she replied, shaking her head. "Oh Diego, just let me die."
"Querida, you're not going to die from seasickness," he chided her as gently as he could. "After a few days, you should feel as good as new." He smiled at her as he stroked her hair. "I've made this journey half a dozen times. No one perished on any of those trips." He chuckled. "You'll feel better by next week, you'll see."
Zafira shook her head again. "This is all your fault, Diego," she said accusingly. She jerked away from his touch and rolled over in the narrow bed, turning her back to him.
Diego sighed heavily. "Well, I'm going up to dinner," he announced. "I'll send everyone your regrets."
"You do that," she retorted, her voice slightly muffled by her pillow. "Just leave me alone."
Exhaling loudly once more, Diego turned around and exited the cabin. He really couldn't blame her for being angry with him. Though it made no sense to be upset with him because of her sickness; she would have suffered from it no matter when they made this voyage. These thoughts plagued him all the way up to the dining room where he had been invited to sit at the captain's table.
At twenty-three, he was the youngest person there. There was the captain, of course, a burly white-haired man with a leathery face. Also in attendance was the first mate, a crude-looking fellow; the ship's doctor, and an older man and woman who were obviously a married couple. It took Diego only a few minutes to find out the pair were on their way home to Cartagena, a port city in the province of Colombia. The husband kept them entertained with his stories of pirates who tried to attack the city nearly three hundred years earlier.
Diego listened intently as Señor Ojala told how the buccaneers finally breeched the well fortified town and plundered and pillaged it. "It was truly horribly," he declared. "They took everything of value and what they did to the women. . ." He trailed off as he glanced at his wife and saw her disapproving stare. "Well, I cannot say. Just that it was terrible, just terrible."
"An interesting history," commented the captain who winked at his first mate. It was a tale they both had heard many times already, no doubt, but they politely kept that fact to themselves.
"And where are you headed, Señor de la Vega?" asked the first mate.
"California," replied Diego, uncomfortable at becoming the center of attention. "Los Angeles."
"Los Angeles?" echoed Ojala, who then shook his head. "Never heard of it."
"It's a small pueblo north of San Diego," said Diego defensively. "I've lived there most of my life."
"It must be nice to be on your way back home," said Señora Ojala politely. "But didn't I see you with a young woman when we were boarding?
"Si, my wife, Zafira," stated Diego. "She sends her regrets by the way," he said to the captain. "She's not feeling well at the moment."
"The sea claims another victim," laughed the ship's doctor, Señor Saludo. He then became serious. "I have a tonic that lessens the effects of el mal de mar. You could stop by my cabin after dinner, if you like."
"I would be most grateful," Diego responded eagerly.
"Maybe it's not seasickness," suggested Señora Ojala speculatively. "How long have you two been married?"
"Three weeks," answered a red-faced Diego, catching on quickly as to what the woman was implying. "No, she was fine until we set sail."
"Newlyweds," said the first mate with a smirk. "Saludo, you need to make sure the lady is properly healthy. Don't want anything interfering with their honeymoon, you know."
"Yes, well," interjected the captain before the mate could say anything else. He led the conversation in other directions for the duration of the meal.
Diego was grateful for the captain's intervention. He had become quite embarrassed by his table companions' implications. It was somewhat true that he was still on his honeymoon, but he hadn't made love to his bride for over a week. Not exactly something you would want to confess to a ship full of people, he thought wryly.
He stopped by the doctor's quarters on the way back to his own. Diego was truly amazed at the extent of the physician's apothecary. Jars and bottles filled with both liquids and dried herbs covered every available inch of the many shelves crammed into the room.
Saludo noticed his guest's curiosity and smiled. "I've always been interested in healing herbs and potions. I've found that nature often knows best," he stated with conviction.
"Si," replied Diego, still taking in the room's contents. He then glanced at the doctor. "But why are you just a ship's doctor? You could do so much more, teaching. . ."
The other man smiled at the impertinent question. "True, I should pass on my knowledge. But I have never been able to stay in one place for long. The sea is in my blood, mi amigo."
He rummaged around on one of the crowded shelves and after a few minutes removed a small bottle. Popping open the cork, he sniffed it then nodded before he stopped it up again.
"My own special seasickness cure," he announced as he handed the brown vial to Diego. "Chamomile, peppermint, pennyroyal, and just a drop or two of my secret ingredient. Stir two teaspoons into a cup of hot tea every four hours. Your wife will be up and about in no time."
"Muchas gracias, Doctor," said Diego. "Zafira has been so miserable."
"De nada," replied Saludo with a grin. He patted Diego on the shoulder. "You are welcome to come back anytime," he added, picking up on Diego's keen interest of the room's contents.
"Thank you, sir." It was an offer Diego definitely intended to hold the other man to.
Diego made his way back to the cabin he and Zafira shared. The overwhelming odor of vomit assailed him as he opened the door. His wife was stretched out on the tiny bed, fast asleep. The room was in shambles. Clothes were strewn everywhere. The chamber pot was tipped over, spewing its vile contents. The tepid tea had been spilled and the toast had been crumbled then tossed onto the cabin floor.
Sighing wearily, Diego started his unpleasant
task of cleaning up the chaos Zafira had created. In the back of
his mind, he wondered if this would be the first of many such messes of
hers he would be forced to make go away.
Z Z Z
A week later, just as the doctor and Diego had predicted, Zafira was back on her feet again. Most of her good humor had been restored and she was nearly once again the sweet girl that Diego had married.
He was in a good mood himself that afternoon as they strolled around the deck. The previous evening, Zafira had allowed him to make love to her. Diego knew he should stop himself from smiling but he just couldn't help it as he remembered the night before. It has almost been like their wedding night all over again, but even better.
"It's too bad you weren't feeling well enough yet when we stopped in the Canaries," he said to his wife, hoping to take his mind off their lovemaking as the front of his trousers were beginning to feel tight. "It's so beautiful there. You would have enjoyed it."
"Si, perhaps," Zafira sighed as she stopped and stared at the eastern horizon.
"It will be at least another two weeks yet before we make it to Havana," commented Diego. The wistfulness in his bride's eyes tore at his heart. He shook his head to clear it of any pitying thoughts. She knew he was from California when they had first met. And she knew he was going back as soon as he graduated. She had to have known that accepting his marriage proposal meant she would be living with him in Los Angeles.
Diego then remembered the wretched homesickness he himself had felt when he had first arrived in Madrid nearly four years earlier. Even though he had been there twice before, three times if one counted his birth in the Spanish capital, he still missed his home and family back in California. He came up behind Zafira and wrapped his arms gently around her.
"Don't be sad, querida," he murmured in to her ear. "You'll love California. I know you will." He kissed a spot on her neck. "The hacienda isn't far from the ocean. And there are mountains, beautiful mountains much higher than the ones surrounding Madrid."
Encouraged by the fact that she had relaxed against him, Diego continued, "The pueblo is small, I grant you that. But the people are friendly, hard-working, honest people." He stopped as Zafira glanced up at him sharply.
"We don't hold too much to the rigid social conventions of Madrid," he declared. "We have come to rely on each other for support."
"It sounds wonderful, Diego," she said without much conviction in her voice.
"It is wonderful," declared Diego. "I wouldn't want to live anywhere else."
"Not even Spain?" queried Zafira. "Aren't you going to miss your time there?"
"Well, I'll certainly miss the university," Diego said somewhat wistfully, "all that knowledge right at my fingertips. And Miguel, he is a good friend. . ."
"I never liked him," Zafira snapped angrily.
Diego was taken aback by her vehemence. Was her dislike of his amigo caused by the fact that Miguel made it plain that he thought the couple had rushed impetuously into marriage? Or was it that he and Miguel had gone out the night before their departure? It had only been a couple of drinks and Diego had been home before midnight. Could she really resent that he had wanted to say goodbye to someone who had been his best friend for nearly four years? If her remark was any indication, it would certainly seem so.
Sighing wearily, Diego took out his pocket watch. "Time for supper," he commented, putting an end to any more conversation about Miguel. He escorted Zafira to the dining room.
Diego introduced his wife to their dinner companions. Everyone was quite gracious, telling Zafira how glad they were that she was feeling better. Diego wondered at his feeling of relief that she was polite and friendly. Especially after hearing a muttered comment made by the first mate, Olvera- something about that he had probably really been keeping her tied up in their cabin as his sex slave. Diego had a hard time not punching the bastard in the nose.
Otherwise the meal and conversation were both very pleasant. Zafira didn't eat much, Diego noted, but at least she ate something.
Eventually the discussion turned to politics. "I say we should support the king," stated Señor Ojala. "He's not perfect, but who would take his place? His brother?" The man shook his wearily. "You know the old saying, ‘better the devil you know, than the one you don't'."
"Some people think we shouldn't even have a king," the captain interjected. "That someone elected by the people would be a better choice, like they do in the United States."
"Madness," replied Ojala. "Can you imagine it? A new ruler every few years? Spain would be in utter chaos."
"You mean it isn't now?" asked Zafira archly. "Why should Ferdinand be running Spain just because of an accident of birth?"
"You almost sound like one of those anarchists who had Segovia under siege," commented Olvera.
Diego looked sharply at Zafira. Her eyes had grown big with shock. "Segovia. . . What about Segovia?" she managed to get out.
"Rebels tried to take the city a couple of weeks before we set sail," Olvera explained. "The royal army surrounded them, but they wouldn't surrender. Something about holding the city until Ferdinand abdicated."
"So what happened?" inquired Señor Ojala.
"The army cut off all supplies, tried to starve them out," the first mate continued. "People weren't too happy about that and turned on the rebels. I heard that almost all of the revolutionaries were killed."
All the color drained from Zafira's already pale complexion. "Excuse. . .excuse me," she said in a choked voice. "I don't feel well." She threw her napkin onto her plate before getting up and fleeing the room.
Diego could see the confusion on the other's faces. Señora Ojala and the doctor shot him glances of pity.
"Perhaps she just needs some more of the tonic," suggested Saludo. "I can go fetch another bottle. . ."
"No, gracias," Diego responded politely. "If you will pardon me, I'll go check on her."
Heavy hearted, he traversed the narrow passageway back to their cabin. Quietly, he opened the door, not sure of what he would find inside. It was with a small sigh of relief he saw she was lying on the bed. He grimaced though as he noticed she was curled up in a small ball, sobbing violently.
The loud click of the latch as he shut the door drew the weeping woman's attention. Zafira rolled over to face her husband with eyes full of tears and venom.
"Go away, Diego," she demanded angrily. She grabbed a corner of the sheet to wipe her cheeks. "He's dead, I just can't believe he's dead."
"Zafira, querida. . ." he began.
"This is all your fault, Diego de la Vega," she hissed at him as she sat upright. "Joaquin is dead and it's all your fault."
"Joaquin - who's Joaquin?" Diego was sure he either heard wrong or she had misspoke.
Zafira instantly tensed. "Ricardo, I said Ricardo," she declared, then let out a wail of despair. "My brother is dead."
"Zafira, por favor," Diego pleaded as he knelt down beside the bed and gently stroked her hair. "Querida, we don't know for sure. I'm so sorry, please. . ."
"I should have been there," she murmured, more to herself than to her husband. "I should have been there, then he'd still be alive."
"Hush, don't think like that," soothed Diego. "What could you have done? Ricardo is his own man. He should have realized what he was doing was dangerous." When she looked at him blankly, he added, "He was trying to overthrow the king. He would be a traitor in the government's eyes."
"Don't you dare touch me!" she shrieked. She knocked away his hand. "You think he was traitor too. You always hated him. And now he's dead!" Zafira slapped Diego across his face as hard as she could. "Get out!" she screamed.
He realized then his wife was hysterical and that for now, there would be no reasoning with her.
Diego got to his feet and rubbed his stinging cheek before he spoke. "Very well, I'll go. But I want you to promise me that you won't. . .that you won't do anything rash."
"Get out!" she yelled. "Just get out!" Zafira turned away from him and started crying again.
Diego stood there in the hallway for a few moments, trying to sort out his feelings of shock and disbelief as he listened to his wife's cries of grief. Diego started walking down the passageway, turning the matter over and over in his mind. And one thing kept cropping up as it defied all explanation.
He was positive Zafira had said the name
of that of her brother. Who was Joaquin? And why
would she be so upset he was dead?
Z Z Z
"CADENAS DE AMOR" - CHAPTER FOUR