Chapter Four -- Aftermath
By the time Diego arrived at the university, it was nearing dawn. Bernardo was still unconscious, which worried him. Gently laying the servant down on the ground, Diego loosened the saddle a bit on the horse and looped the reins over the animal’s neck. Hopefully, a story of being thrown and having to walk back to town would be believed by the stable master, if the Californio were asked. Swatting the horse on the rump, he watched it trot down a street, before turning back to Bernardo.
Picking the manservant up, Diego carried him up to the room he shared with Fernando and quietly tapped on the door with his foot. Apparently, his roommate had been waiting for his return, because the door was immediately opened for him, and Fernando stared in shock as Diego carried Bernardo in and placed him on his bed. "By the Saints, Diego, no wonder you are just now getting in," he said in a low whisper. "Let me take care of him, you go see the general. He has been worried about you, too."
Diego changed out of his dark and now trail-worn clothing, donning the workout clothes, and checking on Bernardo before going to de Silva’s room. Dreading a confrontation with the general after having broken curfew, Diego nevertheless, did not regret his decision to do so, whatever the consequence might be.
Lightly tapping on his mentor’s door, it too, was opened immediately and he was greeted by the general’s worried expression. Diego was motioned in and de Silva quietly closed the door behind him. When he turned back to his pupil, the general’s countenance had changed to one of disappointment. "You realize that by breaking a team rule, you have forfeited your chance to win this tournament."
Weary from the fight, the anxiety and the ride, Diego just shrugged. "General, you must do what you must do. But I had to do what I felt was best, regardless of the consequence. I had to act, because I know how much Rodriguez hates me and what he apparently is willing to do to get revenge against me. Never will I let a friend down, if there is something I can do to help him. The European championship is worth far less to me than the needs of a friend."
"Sit down, Diego, you look exhausted," de Silva said gently, the disappointment on his face replaced by curiosity. Glancing at him, the Californio complied.
"Diego, Don Fernando has been very tight lipped all night. I am assuming your excursion this evening has to do with the mute manservant and the ridiculous charge against him?" De Silva asked.
Nodding, Diego looked to his mentor for understanding. "General, I could not lay a great deal of faith in José Rodriguez having a change of heart and going before the magistrate. I had to do something."
"Diego, I envy your close friends, if you would do this much for one whom you barely know," de Silva commented.
"But, General, Bernardo is like a close friend. It is as though there is a bond, beyond that of acquaintances, or employee to employer. From the first time I met him on the ship, he felt like a compadre, not just someone’s servant. Am I making sense?" Diego asked suddenly, puzzled by his feelings.
"My impulsive student, I have been in combat and know exactly the feeling you are talking about. There are those you are drawn to, not only as friends but as someone that you intuitively know you can count on; can trust with your life," he explained. His respect for his student had grown greatly in the past few minutes.
A knock on the door startled them. "Herr General, it is the Polezei, we need to speak with you."
Looking at Diego with an alarmed look on his face, de Silva grabbed his saber and another near it. Throwing the second sword to Diego, along with a towel, he walked to the door and opened it. "What can I do for you this time of the morning, gentlemen?"
"We need to know if your students have been here in their rooms all night, Herr General," one of the two men told the old general.
"As you can see, the contender for the championship has been with me, practicing a great deal of the night. His nervousness has kept me up far longer than I would like," de Silva laughed easily. The two Germans gave Diego a hard stare.
"Why did you need to come and check up on my students?" he asked, innocently. The policemen turned back to the general.
"A prison escort was ambushed on the way to Stuttgart during the night, and the prisoner escaped. It was believed that the escapee’s countrymen affected his release and this one was the only Spaniard unaccounted for. But if he was here with you, then perhaps our theory was wrong," the German explained.
"Yes, perhaps your theory was definitely wrong," de Silva said dryly, as the two policemen walked down the hall and around the corner.
"Bernardo!" Diego exclaimed and rushed to his own room and through the door, not even going through the motion of knocking. Fernando looked up at Diego, with a startled look on his face and then, calmly pointed to the manservant, who was still sleeping on his bed.
"I was fortunate to be able to carry him to the balcony before those two big lummoxes came in. They didn’t think to look out there, and I told them that you were with the General, which was the truth," Fernando said with a smile.
General de Silva came into their room and quietly closed the door behind him. With a smile, he turned to Diego. "Congratulations, my boy, you get to play in that match tomorrow after all. There is absolutely no excuse I could give to disqualify you from competing, without jeopardizing your freedom. And for this once, I am very glad." Walking over to Bernardo, he looked the manservant over, noticing several bruises on his face and a small lump that had formed over the mute’s left ear.
While the general was checking him, Bernardo’s eyes opened and looked into de Silva’s in confusion. When he tried to get up, the general gently pushed him back down. Bernardo signed a query, asking where he was.
"You are in my room, Bernardo," Diego told him, with a smile. The manservant looked at Diego with gratitude, asking for confirmation that the caballero was his rescuer. With a smile, the Californio simply nodded. Bernardo signed his thanks, before closing his eyes and falling back to sleep.
"Diego, you need to do the same, at least for the few hours remaining before the final begins," de Silva said pointedly.
"It would only make me lethargic, I might as well stay up and practice in reality for awhile," Diego commented.
"The one thing I regret," the general said with a sigh, "is that I will have to accompany Fernando and José to the magistrate’s. You will be starting your final alone. I could wring that little popinjay’s neck right now, but if we don’t follow through on this, then it really will look like we have rescued Bernardo and do not need to continue trying to exonerate him."
"I will be fine, just so long as you can get that ridiculous charge against Bernardo dropped," Diego told him.
So it was that five hours later, Diego prepared for his match against his Prussian opponent alone. Although a bit weary, adrenaline had started to kick in as he limbered up and he felt the rush of it flow through his limbs like a river when the signal to begin was given.
The Prussian was very, very good and at times Diego was extremely hard pressed, but his inborn talent, and Gen. de Silva’s expert training prevailed and when the official called the match, Diego had won. The crowd had heavily favored the Prussian, as they would one of their own countrymen and there was a short, stunned silence when the Spaniard was declared the winner. Applause finally erupted when Von Mannheim walked over and shook Diego’s hand.
"Diego de la Vega, I do not wish to engage you when you have a few more years experience under your belt. I salute you," he said in perfect Spanish, raising his saber in the air. Diego returned the salute, with a smile. "Señor von Mannheim, I do not wish to ever engage you in competition again. That was the hardest match I have ever fought and you are the toughest opponent I have had the privilege to cross swords with."
As Diego was placing his saber back in its carrying case, he noticed a small, neatly folded Spanish flag, which he had not seen before. Pulling it out, he unfolded it. He assumed that Fernando had placed it there this morning. When Diego was called over to receive his award and was handed a solid gold medal, he stared at it for a brief moment, not able to fully comprehend what had happened.
Then, holding the medal in one hand and the flag in the other, and with a rare show of exultant emotion, Diego held them both aloft and shouted, "Muestro Ferdinand y Espana, Für Kaiser Ferdinand und Spanien!" he repeated for the German audience. He sincerely wished his father could have been here. It was then that Gen. de Silva and Fernando arrived and greeted him with a great deal of backslapping and bear hugs, saying nothing, because nothing needed to be said.
Much later, when the men had returned to their room, they found Bernardo cleaning it up. When he saw the medal around Diego’s neck, he beamed and signed his congratulations. "How do you feel, Bernardo?" Diego asked with concern coloring his voice.
Bernardo pointed to his head and indicated a slight headache. Then he walked up to Diego and shook his hand, signing his willingness to be his servant. "I feel fortunate to have you in my employ, Bernardo," Diego declared fervently.
"Of course he does, Bernardo," Fernando joked. "He needs someone to clear a path through his room."
"Do not let his jokes alarm you," Diego quipped. "The royal cousin comes to see me in order to see what a floor looks like. He has not seen his in a year."
"If these two will quit bantering, you might be happy to know, Bernardo," de Silva stated, "that you have been exonerated, whenever you are found." The general laughed. Bernardo shook his and Fernando’s hands in appreciation. "It took a bit of arm twisting, but José finally admitted that he had been hasty in his declaration that your ‘questionable activities’ were the result of spying, and that your actions were probably no more than an unfamiliarity with local customs and language. He also admitted that the defective map was his idea of a joke."
Bernardo scowled and signed that he was sincerely glad to be out of the employ of the general’s son.
"It would be terrible, though, to feel that much censure from a father," Fernando said seriously. "He must have felt great shame to have gone to such great lengths to get revenge against Diego."
Diego nodded, understanding how very painful it would be for him if his father expressed that kind of disappointment in him. They had been very close before his departure for Spain.
The more Diego was around Bernardo, the more grateful he was for the chance encounter that brought them together. The manservant provided a steadiness in his life that he welcomed and a comradeship that extended beyond an employee/employer relationship. Bernardo seemed to be content in his service, also.
Life back in Madrid returned to normal for Diego, with his academic studies and military lessons taking most of his time. Then came the day when a rare letter was delivered to him, a letter that puzzled and alarmed him at the same time and caused him regret and joy. It was a letter from his father asking for his return home.
The difficult part was breaking the news to Bernardo. When he did though, the mute surprised him by insisting that he would travel to California with Diego, if the caballero still wanted him as his manservant. Diego was delighted; he had been worried that Bernardo, having lived all his life in Spain, would want to remain. Smiling at each other, they prepared for whatever the future would bring them.