The event was, of course, a thinly veiled attempt to introduce the pupils of the Hopewell Finishing Academy to fitting matches in the form of Southern Michigan Military Academy cadets. There were none of the popular tunes of the day in the repertoire; an entire committee had been assembled to choose a stately program of waltzes for formal dancing.

One concession–indeed the only concession–that the matrons and officers and hangers-on made was that cadets were free to dance with anyone they liked, and quiet conversation was generally permitted. The chaperones were eagle-eyed for any inappropriate touching, and none of the girls or boys were allowed to leave with each other. But they could discuss whatever they liked.

The fifth waltz, Eternal Wizrd by Adrian Wetzler, began. Alan DeVries, a cadet from the DeVries financier family out of Detroit, was dancing with Edith Carrington of the Battle Creek Carringtons. Alan had seen the Edith with a coy smile and a distant look on her face and, intrigued, held out his arm.

“What do you think of the latest fashions coming out of London this season, Miss Carrington?” Alan asked, hoping to stimulate conversation on a topic that the fairer sex would find interesting.

“I’m told that I am wearing them,” laughed Edith, “but otherwise I really couldn’t care less. Tell me, Mr. DeVries, what is the last book that you read?”

Alan bit his lip. “Er, Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott. It’s required reading for all first-years.”

Edith ostentateously batted her dark eyes. “And what year are you, Mr. DeVries?”

“A sixth year, Miss Carrington.”

“Lovely, truly lovely,” said Edith. “May I regale you with a book that I re-read recently, Mr. DeVries?”

Alan did not feel qualified to speak on a topic that interested him so little, but…for all her cheek, Miss Carrington’s dark hair and slim figure were very pretty. “Please do, Miss Carrington.”

“It’s called Folk Stories of the Spanish Conquest, by one Mr. Pierre Richat, and it collects stories and tales from the conquest of the New World.”

“Oh,” said Alan with a relieved smile. “Grand stories, I’m sure, of the conquistadors’ noble deeds.”

“Stories and tales of the Indians and their descendents, Mr. DeVries, not the conquistadors,” Edith laughed. “One of the tales in particular, that of Princess Eréndira of the Purépecha, has long fascinated me. Are you familiar with it?”

Alan cast a longing look about the dance floor, to the other couples waltzing silently or talking about fashion. “I don’t know that I am, Miss Carrigton.”

“Princess Eréndira was daughter of the king of the Purépecha people of Mexico. Although her father surrendered to the Spanish she resolved to defeat them, and defeat them she did. Would you like to know how?”

A military story seemed like it might be tolderable, so Alan nodded in the affirmative. “I have a passing curiosity, Miss Carrington.”

The waltz began to build to its cresdendo, and the whirling couples on the floor were suddenly faster, almost dizzying. “She learned the ways of the Spanish, taking their horses and their arms and studying them so that she knew how they worked. Princess Eréndira picked apart the machine that had been set up to oppress and conquer her, and she learned its inner workings. She learned how best to defeat it by stabbing deep at its soft spots even as she appeared to the Spaniards to be an ineffectual savage.”

“And…what happened to her?” Alan said, utterly mystified by Edith’s tone.

“Well, no one is quite sure. Some say she went into hiding, others that she married a priest. I have my own theory.”

“What is that?”

“It is that she learned all she could from those who would conquer her, used that information to destroy them, and then fell in with someone who shared her beliefs. And together, they raised a generation that would give way to another, and another, each stronger than the last, until the yoke of the conquestadors was thrown off for good.”

The music came to an end. Alan seperated from Edith. He gave her a bow, she a curtsey.

“A…delightful tale, Miss Carrington,” said he. He disappeared into the mass of cadets before much else could be said.

“Pity,” laughed Edith to herself.

On cue, the Hopewell Chamber Orchestra struck up a fresh waltz, and cadets once more went in search of ladies to dance with. Alan could be seen repeating presumably wild stories, complete with gestures, of Edith to his fellows.

But, as she made her way back to the wall, another of the cadets stepped forward. “Tell me, miss,” he said. “Are you familiar with the old tale of Arminius?”

“You mean,” said Edith, eyes glittering, “the German who got himself a Roman military education so he could smash Caesar’s armies at the Teutoberg Forest?”

“The very same. May I have this dance?”

“You may indeed, cadet,” said Edith. “You may indeed.”

Inspired by the song ‘Erendira’ by Hiroki Kikuta, released under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license.

  • Like what you see? Purchase a print or ebook version!
Advertisements