December 25, 1623
It has been two years since our journey of survival began in Africa. Two years since I have written anything down in my diary, the only book I was able to save on that hopeless night of September 29, 1621.
But before I capture those terrible events, I want to pen down my love’s reaction to the estate we will be living in for the rest of our lives.
In the end, it became possible for us to be together. The price was high, but we have survived and I know with Cisco at my side I can face anything else.
As a Christmas gift, I gave him full ownership of my estate. It has been handed down from generation to generation of Artiagas. I knew he would be the perfect landowner to continue the legacy my family started, and that my inheritance was safe.
When Rosa-Lee climbed on his lap to give him a big wet kiss he smiled down at her and gave her a bear hug. The last few days he had been extremely emotional. We both felt a deep compassion for him. I feel proud to know this man, my husband, Cisco Almaida. When I handed him the papers, he was shocked. Disbelief shone clear in the blue depths of his eyes. He had the same expression when we first arrived two days ago.
He could not believe the large estate nor the castle, built by my great-great grandfather all those years ago.
When we arrived Cisco only stared at the estate, the manicured gardens and lawns only yellow due to the cold weather, and I had to encourage him to step into the castle as the man of the house. This was more than he ever dreamed of. His mind was stunned and dumbfounded at the magnitude of the riches he faced.
I had told him about the place, to prepare him, but I knew he would only appreciate it fully when he saw it.
He stood in the enormous foyer of the castle and gaped in awe. The magnificent wooden staircase spiraled to the upper levels. The black and white marble tiles gleamed in the late sunlight. Fires were already laid all through the house, for which we were grateful. The staff had done a magnificent work in maintaining the place while we were gone.
He felt overwhelmed by it all until Rosa-Lee reached for his hand and walked with him to the parlor with its exquisite furniture, tapestries, and golden framed paintings of past generations. She chattered nonstop, even if it was her first visit. But the difference was she is used to these riches and he was not.
After we settled in, he walked the estate over the next two days, and I showed him the inheritance. Surrounded with a rapid-flowing river with tree lines on both sides, the castle looked impressive, built out of stones and brick, standing three stories tall in the Portugal sun. Each room was filled with generations worth of treasures; heavy hand-crafted furniture, art, and family portraits, tapestries bought in India, China, Spain, and Africa, rich in color, hung on the walls.
At first, he could not comprehend the papers, or his new title as landowner. He struggled for words this morning but accepted the responsibilities as property owner. This was a challenging time for Portugal. The country was in a transitional phase and landowners were often unfair dictators. But I knew he was wise and would treat his people with respect and kindness. He would give them what was fair, distributing our wealth for the benefit of all.
Cisco is willing to learn. His good, kind heart draws people closer. Already he and Franco, the manager of the estate, have a close friendship. His first lesson was to learn to ride his horse, another present from Rosa-Lee. She was so excited when the horse was presented to him that she giggled with pure joy. His face lit up in childlike wonder at the powerfully muscled black stallion. When he approached the animal the horse responded in like fashion. It took us a while to get him back in the house.
What a delight the day has been. Alfonso will leave soon on the ship Cisco received from the D.E.I.C. for his brave efforts during the last two years. Kayla and Derek will leave for their new home in Spain and the house will become ours alone. There are so many things I still want to show him. I can hardly wait.
But tonight I will give him his greatest gift when I reveal my pregnancy to him. I just know this will leave him speechless.
It was the year 1641 on the south coast of Portugal. The lone figure of a young woman looked over the vast blue sea. A breeze rippled playfully on the water’s surface. To her it spelt trouble, haunting her thoughts with what if’s, reliving the past as if it were just yesterday, crystal clear in her mind. Every day for the last two weeks she had looked at the horizon, hoping to see her father’s well-known merchant ship with his ensign flag appear. But there was no sign. The foreboding feelings accumulated again within her heart, making her anxious and troubled.
While she waited, she read her parents” diaries, a present for her eighteenth birthday, and her most treasured possessions in the whole world, for the umpteenth time. The leather-bound books were soft under her touch, the papers already yellowing. She had read them so often that she knew them by heart, but still they evoked in her a sense of belonging. They held her past but also her future. At twenty-four she knew her future would be colourful and beautiful. She felt safe when reading the pages, and knew if they had made it, she would make it as well.
Coming on the ship was her eagerly awaited younger brother, only sixteen years of age. He had been so excited about his first voyage as a sailor that they could hardly stay in the same house with him. Their father had taught them all about the sea since they could understand and walk.
He had taught them to read the stars at night, to read charts, navigating their own way. He sent them on the ship for countless lessons; lessons they never tired of.
Pedro always had a bigger love for the sea. He was more like their father in his kind-heartedness and was a gentle giant with dark blond hair. He was more excited about the lifestyle of a sailor, exploring new countries, loving the openness of the seas. Their father told the stories of his adventures and especially the time she, Rosa-Lee, and their mother had met him. He was still a sailor then, and the tale included the two years it took them to get back to Portugal after leaving India, where their journey had begun, and Rosa-Lee had been born.
As a birthday gift, her father had given Pedro the position of cabin boy to Captain Alfonso, his good friend, to go out to India. He went away for seven months, and by her father’s calculations, he should have already been back.
Her other brother Manuel was the farmer. He inherited the love of the land and its people from his mother. He also looked like their father in build, but his skin and hair were darker, like Rosa-Lee’s and her mother’s. Manuel had a gentle and caring heart that made him loveable and accessible to the villagers.
At the tender age of eighteen, he was already a leader. The people looked up to him and along with their father he built up the estate and expanded the business.
Rosa-Lee knew that this delay in Pedro’s safe return was hard on her mother and father. Not knowing his whereabouts was difficult but they could only remain calm, waiting. The mood tensed in their home as her father paced the passageways of the castle, anxious and nervous.
Finally, on Sunday afternoon of the second week, Rosa-Lee saw sails heading their way. Shading her eyes, she squinted as she watched the sails coming nearer to the shore at a tormentingly slow rate. Rosa-Lee could now see that it was the Contra O Vento. The smaller frigate usually accompanied the merchant ship as extra security. It was faster and streamlined, not her father’s bulky merchant ship.
Dread filled her heart as she watched the sailors running around on the deck, furling the sails to dock in the harbour. The ensign on the top of the main mast certainly was her father’s crest. Cisco Almaida was a merchant working for the D.E.I.C. He received his first ship eighteen years ago after serving at the sea for nineteen years as a sailor. It was a reward for his bravery and leadership during that fatal voyage where her biological father had passed away along with two hundred and sixty-four crewmembers, slaves and passengers. Gathering the cream fabric of her skirt in her hands she ran down the road to the harbour to meet the captain of the ship she recognized. She was hoping that it would be good news about her brother but the sense of dread did not leave her small body as her chestnut hair streamed behind her, her small oval face weary and troubled.
The months of waiting in anticipation of Pedro had been too long. They stayed a close-knit family, especially Mother, Father and herself, but the two boys who had not yet had adventures did not understand the dangerous side of sailing ships. It sounded foreign and distant to them, just stories they had heard all their lives. But Rosa-Lee and her parents knew how quickly things could change on the sea. They had lived on it and had survived its worst.
Pedro was still very young, inexperienced about life.
Rosa-Lee’s dress whipped against her legs as she ran down the shoreline into the town, her lungs burning with the unusual exercise. Today she did not see the splendour of the sea or land, the birds flying just over the top of her head. She did not notice the familiar faces, townspeople who waved at her and flashed toothy smiles. She just wanted to find out any news. With only the Contra O Vento coming in she was worried.
When she reached the berth, the captain stood on the bridge at the side, peering through the tackle works, deep in thought. As the plank lowered onto the pier she had a sinking feeling that something was very wrong; that life as she knew it is about to change.
“Captain, any news?” she shouted.”