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Words Without Borders is one of the inaugural Whiting Literary Magazine Prize winners!
from the January 2015 issue

Cousins from Overseas

What if Brazilian imperial prince Dom Pedro Afonso had survived instead of dying as a child in 1850? By the end of the 1860s he would become a hero at the War of the Triple Alliance after capturing the Paraguayan tyrant Solano Lopez. Relying on his heroic male heir, emperor Dom Pedro II abdicates in favor of Pedro Afonso in 1886, who will rule as “Dom Pedro III”, the most beloved monarch of the Empire of Brazil. His coronation will assure the survival of Brazilian imperial regime.

Some two decades after, the youngest son of Dom Pedro III saves the life of his Portuguese cousin, Dom Carlos, King of Portugal, allowing also the survival of monarchy in that country. —Gerson Lodi-Ribeiro

“I hereby declare for the annals of this House that the Imperial Throne is not only fully in favor of Abolition but, what is more, nurtures a special sympathy for its subjects who struggle on behalf of the emancipation of Brazilians of African descent.”

           —Dom Pedro Afonso, prince-regent of the Empire of Brazil, in a speech made to the   Senate on October 1, 1871.

A late sunny afternoon in a solitary stretch of the Imperial Park of the Organs Mountain Range in Brazil. The sky, amid the leafy treetops in the dense woods near the mountain village of Teresópolis, is still blue.

His face twisted in pain, a long rifle perched on his lap, Dom Luís II, the exiled king of Portugal, laments his misfortune from the flat stone where he rests in the middle of the woods.

His body doubled over, utterly alone in the isolated woods, with less than an hour before nightfall, and afraid to examine the right leg he suspects is broken, Luís Filipe has never felt less like a monarch.

He certainly has serious reasons to lament.

Not so much the tibia he has undoubtedly fractured. Or for having become separated from the group that is at this very moment off on a hunt in the Imperial Park.

His pains originate in another continent. They are graver, and more ancient.

A mere two years ago, Dom Carlos’s reign in Portugal was carrying on peacefully, while to the East its neighbor Spain was being torn to bits in a bloody civil war.

Having become king after his father’s death six months later, Luís Filipe saw his new kingdom invaded by Franco’s victorious troops. A reprisal for the veiled support the Portuguese monarchy had lent to Spain’s legalist faction.

Only recently crowned and already in danger of losing his kingdom, he deemed it wise to follow the example of his celebrated ancestor from the House of Bragança. A few radical historians, overzealous with shameful Republican ideals, had branded Dom João VI the Fugitive King. Nitwits! The elderly monarch had beaten back Bonaparte magisterially, had he not? In his flight to Brazil, he had managed to preserve both crown and kingdom. And, rather than falling under the yoke of the Napoleonic invader, he had even brought his Court with him. Thus, although under military occupation in Europe, Portugal survived and flourished as a state and nation in the Americas.

Franco’s armies had invaded the kingdom through the north and east, heavily backed up by the Nazi Luftwaffe, and Dom Luís II, inspired by his ancestor’s political astuteness, set sail with his court on ships of the British Navy, crossing the Atlantic for the former Portuguese colony. On the way, they anchored along Praia at Cape Verde, where they found the imperial battleships the Tamandaré and the Barroso, along with several destroyers and a handful of submarines, loyal representatives of the Brazilian wing of the joint task force which would serve them as a convoy.

On that occasion, the exiled king had been stricken with grief upon glimpsing the flag of the Empire of Brazil, rather than the Portuguese insignia, at the top of a mast in the town square at Praia. At least these new occupants had the decency to pay him homage by exhibiting the Portuguese coat of arms on another, lower mast.

Better this way. Better to see Cape Verde in Brazilian hands and Madeira and the Azores under British control than in Franco’s claws. Or, even worse, in those of Nazi Germany.

Perhaps the day might come when the North Americans, the British, and the Brazilians would join forces in a crusade to liberate Europe from Hitler, Franco, and Mussolini. If that were to happen, Luís Filipe hoped to employ the islands of the Atlantic as naval bases to assist in this second Reconquest of Portugal.

While more than a century has passed since Brazil had been a Portuguese colony, today Dom Afonso of Orleans and Bragança, son of the glorious Dom Pedro III, another illustrious descendent of Dom João VI, now sits on the imperial throne. A bold-spirited monarch, Dom Afonso had already grown accustomed to referring to the Portuguese royal family as “my cousins from overseas,” from the time when he had cultivated a friendship with Dom Carlos, Dom Luís Filipe and the young Dom Manuel, during his first visit to the kingdom at the dawn of the century.

Dom Luís II breathes deeply, gathers his courage and finally reaches for his leg. What he had only suspected to be a fracture now becomes a concrete fact.

Where the hell was Pedro Francisco already?

Why didn’t his Brazilian cousin appear? He had always been so solicitous just when Dom Luís needed it most. For better or worse, the intrepid youngest son of the emperor had become his constant companion since his arrival in Brazil the month before.

As a matter of fact, it had been the idea of the youngest imperial prince to hunt jaguars in the Organs Mountain Range.

***

Set on lifting the debilitated spirits of the exiled king, Pedro Francisco took him for a visit to see the Santos Dumont the day after the royal family had arrived in Rio de Janeiro. Recently incorporated into the Brazilian armada and now promoted to flagship, the enormous aircraft carrier had rapidly become the great pride of the imperial navy.

As he contemplated the dozens of fighters exposed on the flight deck of the steel Leviathan, Luís Filipe couldn’t resist letting an acerbic comment slip. He would love to see those genuine birds of prey, he remarked, fighting off Goering’s Stukas after they had bombarded the garrison of the city of Porto.

The King didn’t even need to glance sideways to verify that his Brazilian cousin had felt the blow. The imperial prince’s countenance contorted in an unexpectedly severe expression. His glance was sharp as he responded: “My cousin’s dream may be closer to being realized than he imagines.”

At that moment, the exiled king did not wager a retort. When all was said and done, at his core he did not regret his unfortunate comment. After all, he had just been made aware of an important fact, one which was apparently already a frequent topic of conversation in the Brazilian barracks.

The king imagined that, as an aircraft officer of the imperial navy, Pedro Francisco must have known what he was talking about.

***

Luís Filipe met Pedro when the latter was still a young lad of thirteen, on the occasion of Dom Afonso’s celebrated second visit to Portugal.

The two Brazilian imperial princes, father and son, had born witness to the near-successful attempt at regicide in Lisbon’s Commerce Plaza. Very few know that Pedro also found his own life in danger during that sinister event.

At the time, the support Dom Afonso offered to the Portuguese king in the name of the Empire of Brazil strengthened their ties of friendship, forging an even deeper bond between the two branches of the Braganças, the reigning family on both sides of the Atlantic.

For this reason, so many years later, Luís Filipe was not in the least surprised to find his old friend, now a man with prematurely gray temples, no longer the grandson but now the son of the emperor, waiting for him on the Victory Wharf of Rio de Janeiro. He stood several feet from the commanding equestrian statue of Dom Pedro III at the age of twenty-one, the age at which he had returned a hero following his victorious military campaign in Paraguay: the young general-prince who had captured the tyrant Francisco Solano López.

With one hand holding an umbrella, his cousin Pedro beckoned with his free hand at the Dom João VI, the imperial galleon carrying in its bilge the exiled king. The Conqueror, the military convoy’s flagship, was already anchored in the calm waters of Guanabara Bay.

Upon his arrival he was immediately informed that the news from his kingdom was bad indeed. Lisbon had just been captured and already Franco had the audacity to name an obscure economics professor as the kingdom’s dictator. A cowardly nobody by the name of António Salazar.

Dom Afonso gave his youngest son the responsibility of personally attending to the royal family’s every need, to ensure their tropical exile would be as painless as possible. After embracing his friend in greeting, the good-natured Pedro declared in his welcoming speech that his own task would be relatively simple in comparison to the massive transference of the Portuguese court to the colony in 1808.

True, the king assented in silence. This time the Royal Family and its retinue comprised fewer than two hundred souls.

Even worse than the news from the Kingdom are the pains shooting through his lacerated leg after his fall into this ravine hidden in the heart of the woods.

Amid his suffering, a shiver of fear shoots through his marrow when he hears a hoarse bellow coming from within the brush.

A jaguar?

Was it possible that he had sidestepped Franco’s clutches only to succumb in the Brazilian rainforest to a ferocious animal? Just what he needed to make complete his tragedy.

Trembling, he lets out a moan of pain as he takes up with both hands the rifle resting on his thighs.

***

When, in the middle of the hunt, Pedro Francisco had whispered his impromptu escape plan, Luís Filipe could barely contain his whoop of enthusiasm. Both longed to leave behind the bothersome presence of officers from the imperial and Portuguese armies who were serving as security during their outing.

At the time there hadn’t seemed to be any risk involved. After all, even the soldiers in their escort recognized that his Brazilian cousin knew the Imperial Park woods like the back of his hand. The possibility of getting lost was not even contemplated.

Of course, his idiotic tumble and subsequent slide down the cliff were not part of the original plan.

When he woke up minutes or hours later with scrapes and lesions all over, his whole body bruised and his right leg broken—it’s difficult to say how long he was passed out, for his watch had been smashed in the fall—he found himself utterly alone. The pain in his leg was unbearable. With tears in his eyes he barely managed to drag himself over to his muddied rifle.

Where had Pedro gone?

Why doesn’t he hear anyone shouting his name?

Such was life. A foreign monarch gets lost in a dense park without the hosts’ feathers even being ruffled . . .

He observes the shards of blue among the treetops.

Night would soon be falling.

Another cavernous roar. He could swear this one was closer.

***

The very idea of hunting jaguars in the most secret corners of the Imperial Park had seemed excellent on this sunny day in late fall during the sojourn of various members of the royal and imperial families in the city of Petrópolis.

If it had depended on their own will, His Majesty and His Imperial Highness would have left the palace in Petrópolis without the others. After great efforts, their respective attendants persuaded them to be accompanied by the mixed escort composed of three officers from the king’s personal guard and the same number from the cavalry regiment of the Imperial Army, baptized the “Dragons of Independence,” widely known for their service to Brazilian princes. All six were expert marksmen with a great deal of hunting experience. Although, truth be told, in the case of the Portuguese officers this experience was limited to the forests on the outskirts of the town of Sintra, light years away from the exuberance of the Brazilian tropical foliage, not to mention the suffocating heat which veritably hounded them on that late fall day.

After being frustrated, king and prince, perhaps in a kind of recreation of the youthful tricks that they used to orchestrate together in the courts on either side of the Atlantic, decided to play a prank on the soldiers of the convoy. First, they ordered them to follow in the vanguard, an order carried out grudgingly, with vehement protests. Then, in a pronounced curve of the path traveled in the heart of the dense forest, they took another fork and disappeared in the middle of the foliage. They quickly left the men behind. The soldiers, in turn, began to call out for them both as soon as they realized the ruse of their charges. The shouts grew sparer and further away as both parties penetrated the rainforest in opposite directions. Once they realized their plan to hunt on their own, frustrated in their efforts, the six men of the convoy stopped calling out to “Your Majesty” and “Your Imperial Highness.” Luís Filipe remarked to the prince that the Portuguese officers and the dragons had probably decided to continue the hunt in silence, a strategy certainly superior to their previous one.

The two walked for two hours straight, penetrating deep into the woods before deciding to stop for lunch. Only after the prince had whispered his plan did the king realize the reason for his insisting on carrying the provisions in their own knapsacks. His crafty cousin had planned the plan of escape from the very beginning.

The frugal lunch consisted only of dark bread, three kinds of rustic local cheese, and strips of ham, washed down with a red wine from the Douro region which, while not of a noble variety, was able to evoke with its aroma and flavor all his nostalgia for the lost kingdom. For dessert, they savored a can of peaches in syrup.

As the afternoon descended wore on, they stumbled upon the jaguar’s prints. Ecstatic, Luís Filipe managed to cock his rifle. But his cousin suggested he temper his jubilance, for the prints were not so fresh and jaguars are known to be nocturnal.

This advice notwithstanding, he let himself be carried away by his enthusiasm. So much that, upon hearing for the first time the jaguar’s deaf roar, he did not waste time and ran in the direction he thought the beast was hiding.

Pedro shouted to him to remain calm and wait for him, as that particular path was not without its dangers. In his eagerness to fell the great feline with his first shot, his cousin’s appeals fell on deaf ears.

With a leap he threw himself off the trail and charged swiftly through the woods. He avoided with astonishing agility the lowest branches of the trees which reached for him from all sides. But as he proceeded at a brisk pace, his legs became entangled in the plants and bushes covering the muddy ground. The bellows of his wary cousin pursued him.

Then he tripped on a stone or root camouflaged in the high brush and rolled down a cliff of whose existence he had been entirely unaware. With desperate instinct, he tried at first to grab at the branches of bushes and hanging lianas, then the roots of trees. But try as he might, he was unable to break his fall, which increased in velocity.

At the last instant before the brutal impact that knocked him senseless he was struck with the absolute certainty that his time had come. That certainty was the last thought he could remember.

***

Before he even fully realized that he was entirely awake, the king was assailed by a lacerating pain in his right leg. With the help of his knife, he tore off the ragged leg of his safari pants. Fortunately, no fracture is visible. Even so, bloody and swollen as it was, this royal leg requires medical treatment of a certain urgency. Blood coagulates in scratches that run over his arms, as well as his hands and his scarred face. He had twisted the little finger of his left hand. While he feels pain throughout his entire body, what really worries him is the state of his broken leg.

He cannot understand how Pedro still had not found him. From his cousin’s last shouts he infers that he must not be too far from the place where he had fallen.

He imagines that the prince must have shouted, waits for him to return the call. But of course, since he had fainted, he has not been able to respond.

And nor can he be seen from deep in the thickets of the forest.

It is entirely likely that his cousin had even worked his way through the woods in search of him for some time. When he did not find him, he must have withdrawn in order to reunite with the men from the convoy. Surely he was planning to return with them later to embark upon a more detailed search.

This is the only explanation that occurs to the exiled king for his apparent abandonment in the midst of the dense woods as nightfall approached.

Why can he not even hear the men calling?

He forces himself to sharpen his sense of hearing to its utmost capabilities, in an effort to distinguish human voices from within the frenzied chorus of birds and shrill cries of insects.

This is when he hears the roar of the jaguar. Closer than ever.

As a child, his father once told him that sharks possess a sense of smell so acute that they are capable of sensing the blood of their prey from miles away. Oh, the good King Dom Carlos and his passion for marine biology . . . Surely, he must have known what he was talking about.

Might the jaguar also be able to sense his torn flesh and bloody clothing?

***

Those damned Republicans will love it: the fugitive king managed to slip from their clutches only to be devoured by a jaguar in Brazil! Fugitive king? Deep down, it makes him proud to share this label with Dom João VI, the patriarch of two royal houses in the Portuguese-speaking world.

What did they really want, in the end? Perhaps they intended for Dom João to be imprisoned by Napoleon and be made to look ridiculous, like the Spanish monarchs? Or for him, Dom Luís II of Portugal, to agree to abdicate and volunteer his crown to that scoundrel Salazar? Nonsense!

In the meantime, what remains in store for him? Will he be able to hit the jaguar, stretched out as he is on this uncomfortable stone?

It would be better to find a tree to lean up against. At least that way he would keep his back protected. But he doesn’t think he has the strength to drag his bruised body to the nearest tree. He also nurtures grave doubts as to whether he’ll even be able to fire his weapon.

If the beast comes from the direction he thinks, there might be a chance.

The bushes begin to shake around forty feet from the spot where he lies nearly defenseless. With effort, he raises the barrel of his rifle and tries to aim two feet from the ground, as his cousin had recommended. The challenge is estimating the distance from the ground within this dense forest.

Lo and behold, in a fleeting glance, he glimpses the marked back followed by the top of the head. An enormous animal! Almost as large as a lion. A spotted jaguar, quite different from the specimen with its uniform coat residing in the Lisbon Zoo.

The beast approaches slowly in a semi-crouched position, with an almost lazy rhythm. It drags itself by its belly along the ground like the cats who hunt birds in the gardens of Portugal’s National Palace.

Rifle cocked, cold sweat freezing his hands in the full heat of this late tropical afternoon, the king takes aim and shoots.

The brusque explosion echoes throughout the woods.

***

He misses the jaguar.

In the midst of his panic, in his struggle to refill his ammunition with trembling fingers, he drops the cartridges he was storing in the pocket of his safari jacket. They fall into the underbrush and disappear from sight.

Frightened by the shot’s explosion, the jaguar turns halfway around and escapes in three giant leaps. Then it disappears within the depths of the woods.

Luís Filipe sighs, relieved. For better or for worse, he was able to chase his attacker away.

Pleased, he manages at least to refill his cartridge and cock his rifle. The only thing left to do now is wait.

With the crack of that shot, surely his cousin and the soldiers of the convoy will be able to find him.

***

“Where is Your Majesty?” The distant voice that reaches his ears inquires in a strange accent. The king imagines it must belong to a subject from some remote province in the Empire. “Please, speak, that we might know your position.”

“I’m here,” Luís Filipe cries out, jubilant. “My God, you’ve been taking your time!”

“Keep speaking, Your Majesty.” The voice sounds a bit nearer.

“Look out!” In light of the imminent rescue, the royal fatigue gives way to happiness. “There’s a jaguar roaming about nearby.”

Two minutes later, his savior emerges from the dense woods.

Defying the king’s expectations, the man is alone. A blond giant. Wielding a Mauser, he appears intent on aiming it squarely at the exiled monarch’s ribcage.

“Take it slow now, young man.” Luís contemplates raising his rifle. But the icy glow in the pale eyes of the recent arrival convinces him that this is not a wise idea. He limits himself to letting out a weary sigh, before proceeding in a gentler tone. “Once it’s clear that I don’t represent a threat to the gentleman, I suggest you lower your weapon.”

“I will fulfill with pleasure what Your Majesty asks of me. Just first allow me to take my mark on your royal chest.” The thin lips of the blonde man twist into an insolent grin. “Once that’s done I promise to defer to your fair petition.”

“An assassin hired by Franco, then? Sent from so far away to fulfill such a vile mission . . ..” Luís attempts to keep his nerves under control. He must stall, buy some time. “Or perhaps you’ve come on orders from the Republicans . . ..”

“Various parties are interested in your end, Your Majesty.” The assassin braces his arm to take aim. His index finger draws back, nearly pressing down on the trigger.

The shot echoes throughout of the woods.

His eyes already shut, the king’s last thought is of his own astonishment from the sheer force of the crack. He never imagined that a pistol shot could resound with such force in the very heart of the woods.

His body shivers with fright at the second shot. He opens his eyes to see the assassin tumble face down and disappear, swallowed up by the branches of the bushes and thick trees.

* * *

“How’s your leg, Cousin?” Pedro Francisco observes with interest the improvised splint that the Portuguese captain and the lieutenant of the dragons are preparing to immobilize the fractured limb. “Does it still hurt?”

“Not anymore.” On the prince’s insistence, Luís remains stretched out under the watchful gaze of the men of the escort. They remain surrounding the monarch, observing the perimeter with their raised arms, prepared. “Please, explain to me again how you were able to strike down the bandit.”

“We were already relatively close, without realizing it. The shot from your rifle brought us here directly. When we arrived, we came across the terrorist aiming his gun at you.” Pedro casts a thoughtful glance at the corpse the dragons have recently dragged from out of the brush. The right hand of the giant is destroyed, blown apart by a high-caliber weapon. But it was the second projectile, shot from the prince’s rifle, which cracked open the chest of the criminal and threw him to the ground.

“A beautiful shot, Cousin! You saved my life.”

“Thank Captain Carvalho here.” The prince gestures at the impassive dragon, a broad-shouldered mulatto who remains at attention, his telescope-lensed rifle cocked. “If he hadn’t been able to disarm the assailant with that perfect shot, I wouldn’t have found the courage required to strike him down.”

“Damned Francoist!” The king struggles to sit up, but is obligated to remain lying down by the forceful courtesy of the men taking care of him. “He was lying in wait to ambush me, more treacherous than the jaguar, poised for the perfect opportunity to strike me down.”

“I don’t know if he was a Francoist, Cousin.” Pedro examines the countenance of the corpse. “Strange as it seems, he appears German.”

“What do you mean German? The fellow spoke Portuguese. With a heavy accent, certainly, but Portuguese just the same.”

“We’ll investigate the question down to the last detail. I’m certain that Imperial Intelligence will end up digging up something useful. For my part, I wouldn’t be the least surprised if the deceased ended up being a subject of our own Santa Catarina province.” Seeing the monarch’s skeptical gaze, Pedro clarifies. “My father told me in confidence that we are having serious problems in the South with our German immigrants and their descendants, sympathizers of Hitler.”

“But could it be?” Luís Filipe grimaces as he tries to sit up. “Why in the world would a Hitler sympathizer want me dead? It’s a concrete fact that the Nazis supported Franco’s troops in Spain, but from there to . . . My cousin overestimates my importance. I don’t think the Führer is so worried about me.”

“I wouldn’t trust such a hypothesis. It would be wise to recall that the Nazi support you mention wasn’t only provided by Spain. Your own kingdom also provided some.”

“That may be so, Pedro. Even so, I think the Francoists are more anxious to finish off the Portuguese king than the Nazis.”

“King Dom Carlos supported the Spanish legalists, didn’t he? You yourself several times expressed aloud your displeasure at the foreign intervention in the Iberian Peninsula. Well, Franco and, by extension, Hitler and Mussolini, would never have pardoned such affronts.”

“Franco, der Führer, il Duce: they are birds of a feather. Insane dictators, all of them... My cousin is right. Any one of them could have sent the assassin.” Finally seated, Luís II hangs his head dejectedly. “Now that they’ve managed to get all of Europe under their boot, I predict tremendous difficulties in implementing Churchill’s visionary plan to return to the people of the Continent their freedom.”

“True, Cousin. Nevertheless, no matter how arduous, the enterprise will have to be carried out sooner or later. And, if you want my opinion, the longer we wait, the bloodier the second Reconquest will be.”

The king shoots a distracted glance at the stretcher of tree branches that the captain and lieutenant are finishing up. Then he sighs and murmurs, almost to himself:

“If we could at least convince the North Americans to engage with body and soul in the war effort to liberate Europe, instead of limiting themselves to financing the British Empire . . .”

“Leave things as they are, Cousin. At least for now.” The prince offers the briefest of smiles in the twilight that falls over the woods. “Who knows if one day the North Americans, British, and Brazilians will work together to liberate your kingdom? Portugal would constitute a lovely launching point for the Reconquest. But for the time being the best thing to do is to hunker down in that stretcher. Night won’t wait, and I intend to arrive with you safe and sound at the mouth of the park before it’s completely dark.”

“Thank you for your encouraging words and, above all, for your timely marksmanship.” Luís II of Portugal settles as best he can in the stretcher. “But I can’t fathom leaving the situation as it is. So, in spite of this accident, I will keep my appointment next Monday at the Count of Boaluz’s mansion. I would be immensely happy if my cousin would accompany me. I intend to make the magnate fulfill a certain promise to contribute on behalf of the monarchical resistance.”

“Careful with that stretcher, Cousin. Your top priority is caring for that leg.” Pedro can’t resist a smile at the monarch’s enthusiasm. With a discreet gesture, he orders the officers to hoist him up and to begin the trek. “Boaluz is certainly a gentleman of his word and a sufficiently generous captain of industry, in addition to being far wealthier than all the Braganças combined. Don’t doubt for a moment that he won’t place all vast resources at your disposition. But as it happens, there will be a price to pay.”

“Naturally. Brother Manuel has already found out that your billionaire is crazy about titles of nobility.”

“That is correct. Is my cousin willing to award him one?”

“We are not accustomed to be so lavish with regards to titles of nobility. However, depending on the contributions of your loyal subject and on the influence that he claims able to exercise in the North American political scene, I may be inclined to consider an exception.”

“Here we have the luxury of being generous by elevating our subjects to nobility, Cousin. After all, we don’t have hereditary nobility in Brazil. This Count of Boaluz, for example, is the son of our highly esteemed Marquis of Mauá, the pioneer of Brazilian industrialization.

“Well, I shall keep my fingers crossed that he’s inherited from his illustrious father, if not the title, then at least his good sense and nerve.”

"Primos de Além-Mar," © by Gerson Lodi-Ribeiro. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2014 by Sarah Ann Wells. All rights reserved. 

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