I ran back to Madame’s home as soon as the execution was over.
Going past crowds of people, filthy street vendors, and horse carriages, I arrived from Windenburg Fortress after forty minutes. I discarded my Paragon armband along the way so that I won’t be pursued. Almost out of breath, I became tempted to sit on the porch of the home to recover. However, I have urgent news to deliver, so I enter the home without announcing myself, still breathing heavily.
“Who is there? Miguel? Is that you?” the voice of Madame calls from upstairs as I hear her footsteps coming down. “Tell me you’ve brought good news.” Madame says with distress as she approaches me in the kitchen, where I almost collapsed on one of the dining chairs.
I catch my breath, stand up straight to show respect, and hold Madame’s left hand.
“Master won’t be joining Madame for dinner any longer.” I tell Madame with regret as I see her eyes swell up with tears.
“Oh… heavens no…” Madame says as she faints, but I manage to catch her in my arms. I call for help from the old gardener outside to bring Madame upstairs and into bed. Everything has gone by so fast.
After the Paragon Movement was destroyed by both the Royalists and their Lutecean reinforcements, Master sent me back to Windenburg in secret to be at Madame’s side and to communicate as a spy for the Paragon Movement. Honored with such a task, I successfully infiltrated the city and slipped back in unnoticed. Since then, I’ve only received letters from Master addressed to Madame. At the back of these letters were secret codes meant to relay messages with our operatives in the city. When Master was imprisoned and marked for execution, I tried to comfort Madame as best as I could; no one was allowed to visit prisoners in the fortress, and every single day, Madame seemed to be feeling worse, even with the medicine prescribed to him by Master.
Master taught me a few things about medicine, and I hope to become a doctor like him someday. And with his knowledge, I might be able to do more than just give Madame her prescribed medicine from the apothecary.
And then a year passes.
“Miguel?” Madame calls from the sitting room as I put down the duster and adjust a painting back to its proper position. “Miguel!”
“Yes, Madame?” I come down the stairs in a hurry and find her seated. “I’ve finished cleaning your room, as you have ordered.” Madame has slightly changed after Master’s death. Aside from the usual tasks she assigns me, I get unusual requests more often now. The old gardener told me that Madame has been lethargic, but she beams up whenever she sees me.
Madame smiles at me as I approach.
“Miguel, have a seat. I want you to tell me more stories about what you did during the revolution.” Another strange request, but I obediently sit down on the couch, knowing that she will insist that I sit down.
“What would you like to hear about Master’s heroic feats?” I ask her, even though I recall Master just sitting with the other officers in the headquarters, discussing plans and tactics instead of priming and firing muskets at the frontlines.
“No, I don’t want to hear anything more about my husband. Remembering things about him might make me weep.” Madame says with sadness and pauses for a few moments before speaking again.
“I want to hear more about you.”
Months pass, and eventually, spending time with Madame in the sitting room becomes routine. It all started with the things that I did in the revolution, but eventually, she started asking more personal questions, like the things I like, my favorite books, and how to bake a cake.
I get called into the sitting room again where Madame is seated, looking calm and beautiful as always.
“Miguel!” Madame calls me with the familiar tone again. “I was just thinking about the past. When you were first brought here.”
I remember what happened when Master brought me here from the slave market.I was starving in the human-sized cage with other slaves, still regretting the bet I lost back in my old country. And then Master came, saw me, bought me, and brought me home to be washed.
“What about it, Madame?” I ask with curiosity. “Slaves like me don’t have an interesting past.”
“I just want to comment on how much you’ve grown. You did not speak a single word of Windenburger when you first got here, and now, you’re fluent in more than four languages!” Madame says with a genuine tone of wonder.
“It is not a marvelous feat, Madame.” I reply with humility. “Anyone can learn a language.”
“But not at such a great pace!” Madame adds. “You were just a boy back then, and now you have become a man, ten years later.”
“What exactly are you trying to say, Madame?” I ask her, not fully understanding why she is saying these things.
“Let me tell you something, Miguel.” Madame’s tone changes to a more serious one. “Doctor Herbert visited me a week ago, and he told me that I might not have many years to live.”
My eyes change from their usual calm demeanor and open in surprise at the news.
“You must be making a jest, Madame.” I laugh with uneasiness. “Doctor Herbert told me that you’ll be fine as long as I keep giving you your medicine!”
“He was lying. The tumor has gotten worse.” Madame tells me as she puts a hand on her breast. “He thought that a servant like you did not deserve to know what was really happening to me.”
I do not reply after that as I worry about Madame’s health more. Madame speaks again.
“My life might end at any moment, Miguel. And I think you deserve to know. Thank you for taking good care of me. You still have many years ahead of you, and I do not want to confine you to the home of a dying woman like me.”
“Madame, I don’t want to leave you.”
“The chest upstairs contains all of my late husband’s money. Take everything and start a new life for yourself. Continue your medical studies.”
“That will not happen, Madame. I want to continue serving you! An educated slave like me will not get anywhere in this world.”
“You are no longer a slave. You are a free man now.” The moment Madame said that, I suddenly feel a wave of joy. She pulls out a document and presents it to me. I read the document stating that I have been freed with Madame’s consent. The Royal Windenburg seal is on it, so she must have pulled a few strings.
“Now go. Leave before I–” I stop Madame from speaking as I go up to her.
To kiss her lips.
It all happened so fast. Giving Madame– no, Teresa that kiss must have sparked something. She confessed that she was in love with me, which is probably why she always wanted to see me. I am aware that she is dying, but I wanted to make the few remaining years of her life worth it. I still pretended to be her servant when guests from noble houses came over, but when we were both alone, we could caress each other in the bedroom and make love, which made the floorboards creak more than usual.
“You look so handsome today, Miguel Bonifacio.” Teresa adds the surname that her late husband gave me as I caress her cheek. “I see that you have bathed with the herbal oil I recommended.”
I smile at the compliment. “Madame– I mean, Teresa.” I correct myself. “Your skin is as smooth as silk like always.” Teresa puts my arm down and gives me a peck on the cheek.
“You should really start acting more like a master and not like a servant. Maybe you’ll have wonderful servants of your own someday.” She tells me after I get kissed. “Avoid calling me Madame when it’s just the two of us at home.”
“Yes, Ma– Teresa.” I then get punished with a pinch on the cheek.
“That is for almost calling me Madame.” she chuckles as she leans in closer to my ear.
“I love you.” she whispers softly.
“I love you, too.” I whisper back, low enough so that the new gardener outside won’t hear my voice. The old gardener passed away and Teresa hired a new one. He looks a bit pale, and he always works at night, which I found a bit strange.
The knocking on the door was intense later that night. “Open the door!” I hear a gruff voice shout from below. I get up from bed along with Teresa, who was still in her nightgown and make our way to the door downstairs.
I unlock and open the heavy wooden door as I see a few large men in dark purple uniforms; soldiers from the Royal Army. An officer, a larger but dignified-looking gentleman wearing a bicorne hat with a feather salutes and reads out from a scroll of paper.
“His Royal Highness, Kaiser Franz Allister III, under the guidance of Regent Albert von Windenburg, has decreed the conscription of all able-bodied men to repel our Lutecean invaders. Any man, whether they be noble or laborer must be pressed into service at the soonest possible time. Mister Miguel Bonifacio, by His Majesty’s orders, you are hereby obligated to join immediately for the glory of Windenburg.” As soon as the officer finishes reading the statement, two soldiers come in with dirty boots to defile the neat wooden floor I polished and grab me by the arms. I tell the two soldiers to unhand me but they won’t listen.
“No! As the mistress of this house, I won’t let you!” Teresa defies the order and attempts to get the private’s hand off my arm. “He is mine, and servants are not allowed in the Royal Army! He cannot go!”
The officer takes off his cap in respect. “Madame, we have the document stating that your servant is now a free man, which makes him valid for conscription.” he pauses for a bit. “We are very sorry, Madame, but even if he really is your servant, these are His Majesty’s orders. Any able-bodied man must help fight off our invaders from Lutece.” He puts his hat back on and turns his attention to me again. “MARCH THEM OFF!” the two soldiers force me towards a group of other conscripted men in a line as I hear Teresa call my name. I call back to her.
Over and over again.