David surfaced slowly from a dream in which he had returned to his home village and found Teri waiting for him. He lay with his eyes shut, waiting for the surge of grief to subside. Every time he had that dream, the pain was rawly new, all the more real for being a memory. He had no idea how he'd come to be in the ocean, but the sharp-eyed sailor who saw him, and the captain who ordered him fished aboard, had his gratitude, even if they would not turn back to return him to shore.
He worked his passage to the Azores, then found another boat and worked his way home, all the while expecting his wife to be waiting with her mother or his until he returned.
She was gone. Her mother had died, and Teri had run off with another man, his mother told him. He could not believe it, but everyone in the village told the same tale, even Richard, who had been his dearest friend until they both fell in love with the same woman. Even Teri's own uncle.
Somewhere, deep down, he still did not believe it, and she filled his dreams night after night, though ten years had passed. She even invaded his delirium, for he vaguely remembered a pain-filled clamber up mountains, a giant of a man with a soothing lowland Scots burr, and Teri, waiting for him at the end of the climb. And again, in the night, he could swear he'd woken and stroked her silk-soft hair, stray wisps that had escaped her tight plait clinging to his fingers as they had in that one blissful week of marriage.
His head hurt like the devil, and his throat felt as if his entire regiment of marines had tramped through it with sandy boots. If he was in a hospital, it smelt like no hospital he'd ever entered: crisp clean linen and fresh mountain air. Had they brought him to a convent?
David opened one eye, cautiously. He was in a whitewashed room, sparsely furnished. Everything from the deeply recessed window with the arched top to the tiled floor to the brightly-coloured hand-crafted spread to the gaudily painted crucifix on the wall suggested he was still in the mountains between Spain and Portugal. A dark man with a thin face and neatly trimmed beard lay at his ease on the other bed, his hands behind his head and his near-black eyes watching David thoughtfully.
"Water?" David's voice came out in a croak, and the man unfurled and crossed unhurriedly to a jug on a table beside the bed before David had time to think that he should have asked in Spanish.
He tried to sit up, but the man scolded. "No, no. Let me help, English. If I let you open your wounds mi hermanita will be cross."
David subsided, more from lack of strength than from compliance, and the man supported his head while David sipped, absorbed in the small miracle of the liquid sliding over the parched surfaces and soothing them.
"My men?" he asked, when he could speak. Not just the small company of marines, all with some injury, that he took to defend the cartloads of wounded, but all the injured men for whom he had been responsible. All gone? All?
He had asked the giant, too, he remembered, and this man gave him the same answer.
"I am sorry, English. The good Sergeant Peters found only you alive."
In the cruel economy of war, only a fool left living enemies behind him, and a band scrabbling for survival in this unforgiving landscape could not afford prisoners. Both sides made the same cold calculations, but still, the massacre of a baggage train of wounded men turned David's stomach.
"Murdering bastards," he said, and this fetched a nod from the Spaniard—or was he Portugese? Could be either this close to the border.
"Their time in these mountains is short," the man consoled. "We are taking one fort after another with the help of you English . And we will hunt down the 'murdering bastards' to the last man."
"But I forget my manners." The man drew himself up and bowed with an elegance that was ill-suited to the peasant clothing he wore, though he wore it with a flair that transmuted it into something more appropriate to a gentleman.
"I am Imanol Mendina de la Vega. Welcome to my humble residence, and that of my hermana."
Hermana. He had said something similar earlier. Long ago, David had learnt a little Spanish to please Teri's Mama, stranded as she was as a widowed Spanish lady in the very English household of her brother-in-law. But he did not know that word.
He shifted his head on the pillow, the closest he could come to a bow. "David Markinson, Captain of His Majesty's Royal Marines."
Something fierce suddenly surfaced in Imanol's dark intent eyes. "Markinson? Is that a common name in England?"
"Not particularly. It is more common in Scotland. My family are border people."
"Border? Ah. Between two kingdoms. And what is the name of this border town you come from, Captain Markinson?"
"Blackwood," David said. Once he had thought to spend all his days there; to take his articles with his employer, Mr Hemsworth, to raise a family of children with Teri and grow old in a cottage with roses around the door. After his dreams turned to dust, he had enlisted with the marines, and his mother's death two years ago severed his last links to the place.
Imanol was scowling, his heavy brows nearly meeting above the bridge of his nose, but his voice, courteous and calm, showed none of the emotion written on his face. "And have you a wife back there in Blackwood, captain? Or a girl who loves you, perhaps?"
"No." Not that it was any of this man's business. "Not anymore. I have no-one." I have a wife somewhere, his heart protested. Not back there in Blackwood, he answered his own objection.
Imanol opened his mouth to say something more, then turned to the door and fell silent.
David shifted his head on the pillow, but couldn't turn it enough to see who stood there; who was asking a peremptory question in Spanish that was too fast for him to follow. A woman's voice, and Imanol did not like what she said, for his answer was sharp. They argued for a few minutes more, and David tried still harder to see the woman. He could swear he knew the voice.
The altercation ended with Imanol saying to David, "Be careful, English. She says I must not gut you like a fish, but she does not rule here." Another sentence or two in Spanish, and he left. David lay back, waiting, and sure enough the woman came into the room where he could see her. It was her. Older. In the clothes of a village woman rather than those of an English lady. But it was Teri. Maria Teresa Markinson, his runaway wife.
YOU ARE READING
The Lost WifeHistorical Fiction
Daughter of an English father and a Spanish mother, Teri grew up in England, and returned to Spain only after the death of her husband. Her ability to speak English, and also French, comes in handy now that Napoleon and Wellington are fighting over...