Chapter One: Beginning of War
Series name: Shadow Among the Spaniards
The narrow streets of the commune Dax were swarming with merchants and villagers. Carts filled with goods were being carried towards the main square for trading. Dust flew around, tainting the air. Donkeys were treading back and forth the alleys pulling large carts to the square. The scuffling of feet and shouting outside woke up the Torres family.
“Can’t they move carts elsewhere?” groaned Santiago as he stood up from his creaky bed. The bright sun lit up the small wooden bedroom. The room consisted of a rock hard bed with a blanket covering it, a small night table next to the bed, and a cramped wardrobe containing a few pieces of ragged clothing inside.
“Lina, Santiago, come here my children!” called Maria Torres from the kitchen.
“Coming!” snapped back Santiago from his room. He hated when his mother called him a child. He was going to be eighteen in a few months, which was something he couldn’t wait for, as it would be an escape from this old house that was bound to collapse by the end of the year. It was purely made of stacked planks of wood that barely kept the seeping cold out during the winter.
Santiago wanted to be a merchant, like his father. He was always fond of negotiating with others and looking for the best deal, and also liked the feeling of having a pocket of coins by the end of the day — if he was lucky enough. Santiago slipped on a loose linen shirt along with his only and favourite pair of gray trousers.
“I said I’m coming!”
He quickly stomped through the house, making it rumble as he went to the kitchen. His sister Lina was sitting at the round table, eating a piece of yesterday’s bread. His mother was washing the dishes, as she does every morning. When she heard him come in the room, she spun around and pointed her index finger at him.
“Don’t speak to your mother like that Santi. If your father were here you know exactly what he would do.” she scolded.
He rolled his eyes at her. Santiago took the remaining bread from the counter and gnawed at it.
“I’m going to the market to buy some more bread,” he muffled with his mouth full.
“Could you buy some fish too please? I’m making your favourite tonight,” Maria said.
“Paella?” his face lightened at the thought.
“Yes, mi amor,” she replied with a smile. With the thought of paella on his mind, Santiago left the house and began to follow the crowd to the main square.
He was lifted through the busy streets like a log floating on a river. He made sure his money was safe from pickpockets on the way there. After ten minutes of pushing and shoving, he finally made it to the square. The air was dusty and unclean from the commotion. Santiago peered around, looking for a baker or bread vendor, and perhaps his father too. After searching for what seemed like hours, he found a baker at a stand. The man was fairly large, and had a shiny bald head as well as a dark brown beard growing down his chin.
“Hello! How may I help you?”
“I’m looking for pi-”
“I have a large variety of bread here! From sourdough to baguette! You name it!”
“Pita would be nice,” Santiago replied before he was interrupted.
“Ah, pita; yes! How many?” he grinned widely.
“Oh, big family?” he chuckled. Santiago forced himself to laugh along.
“Yes, indeed.” He handed the large man a small dirty coin and took the bread in his arms.
“Thank you sir! Have a great day,” he said.
“And to you too, young gentleman!” the baker called after. The sun was still high up; the day wasn’t over. Santiago decided to search for his father, since he had nothing better to do. He pushed through the crowd only to find his father was not at the stand. His wares were carefully lined up for display, and Santiago knew that if he hadn’t come soon they would’ve been robbe. Not far away, he heard a gunshot, along with screams of fear. Without a moment’s notice, Santiago sprinted as hard as he could, dodging civilians as he ran through the alleyway towards the sound of the gunshot. Finally, he made it in time to see a long line of Spanish citizens queueing up to hang on the gallows.
“Father? Father? Javier?” he called as loud as he could. His voice was barely audible in the large mob of people.
“My son! Run as far as you can!” his father Javier yelled back. Ignoring his father, Santiago watched in shock as his father stepped onto the elevated boards. Four terrified people stood spaced apart, with nooses placed around their necks. Javier looked into his son’s eyes from the stand, crying. He mouthed something to Santiago, but he stood stubbornly in the crowd watching as the boards dropped and his father was left as a hanging, dead body.
He ran as fast as he could, dropping his newly bought bread on the way to his house. He had to warn mother and Lina that they must leave France. Not bothering to dodge anyone, he was a bullet through the crowd. Oddly, outside his house there were no merchants or donkeys. It was dead quiet. With a lump in his throat, he opened the creaking door to his home. One step at a time, he made his way to the kitchen.
There was no reply. He turned towards his mother and father’s room, and slowly pushed the door open. Lying in bed was his mother, her throat cut open and still bleeding. Fresh blood pooled around her, staining the white bed. Santiago broke down into tears. Reaching his mother’s side, he caressed her hair, slowly murmuring a prayer for her.
“Why had I been so rude to her? The last thing I did was yell at her,” he sobbed, heaving between breaths.
“Santiago, we must leave now!” a voice came from behind him. Lina stood at the doorway, tears also trickling down her cheeks. Santiago obeyed her without a thought. He stuffed a linen bag with food and knives from the kitchen with additional clothing and blankets. Lina took the remaining money from their parents’ money box hidden underneath the cabinet. The remaining Torres siblings left their home at dusk, and set off for the Spanish border.