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James Crofter was ripped from his family at age 11.
Within a year the prince was a pauper in a foreign land.
Is nature stronger than nurture? And even if it is, can James find the happiness he so richly desires?
My name is James, and I am the second son of Walter and Maria. My mother is Princess of Castile, now Spain, and my father is ruler of the whole of the Iberian Empire that includes Portugal. Yes, Spain and Portugal are united, which occurred during grandfather Juan’s grandfather’s time. It happened such a long time ago, it boggles my mind.
Walter, my father, is Walter Crofter, an Englishman who ran away from home when he was 11 and made his life on the sea. His story is one to behold, as every time he stuck to his beliefs something good happened to him, and history has proved this true. I loved listening to him tell stories about his youth. In truth, the earliest memories I have of my own childhood were the times when father described his days at sea.
He’d tell me and my older brother, who is named after my father, about his adventures after he ran away from home and drifted around the countryside for two years before he found himself in Bristol, England. My father had been walking around the port, trying to figure out a way to earn a meal, when he approached a ship and a man I later knew as Uncle Bart called to him to come aboard. He gave my father work, and the next thing he knew he was a merchant seaman in the service of the Crown.
Other nights, my father would relate intricate tales about Uncle Bart, and what growing up on a merchant ship was really all about. I found it fascinating that the trading they did was a ruse for my uncle’s serving as a diplomatic liaison between countries, since Uncle Bart was the King if England’s brother. My father would describe in detail the way my real uncle Carlos claimed Aunt Melanie, while protecting her from pirates and coming to live in San Sebastian after they married.
It was Mother, though, who would tell us all about our father’s heroics, and how he protected her and rescued her from pirates. She would explain, by vividly recounting the pirate battles she’d witnessed, how he often single-handedly protected the rest of the crew, and how he also saved Uncle Bart’s life on more than one occasion. And every time she’d tell these stories my father would blush. Tales of his heroics always came from Mother, why, I’ll never know, but my father never seemed uncomfortable cast as a hero.
And these stories were told over and over again, as my older brother Walter and I loved to hear her talk so affectionately about our father. When the adventures were finished, my father would send us to sleep with the phrase, “Good night, sweet princes. May all your dreams be filled with love and happiness.” And for the most part, they were, as I loved my family.
A large part of my upbringing included my studies. My father made it clear that it was my responsibility to learn the lessons that were set in front of me by my teachers so that I would gain the knowledge to make good decisions as I grew older.
Around the house, we spoke both Catalan and English. Father’s native tongue was English, of course, and even though he spoke Catalan, he had difficulty pronouncing many of the words and phrases. Mother would laugh and correct him, and then me, as I generally repeated what he said, even though I knew he’d mispronounced something. For my part, English was particularly useful when my cousins came to visit.
Of all the subjects, my main interest by far was numbers. Very early on, I learned I could reckon numbers at least as well as the tutors could, and often faster. But I also liked history, and when my grandfather, Juan, came to visit, which was several times a year, he would teach me about our country’s rich past. He explained our family’s background and the culture of Iberia as a whole. He said that our relatives have worked hard to bring peace to the region for centuries, and that our family even fought alongside El Cid 500 years earlier. He referred to Spanish prime minister Gaspar de Guzmán, who was also the Count of Olivarez among other titles, as money grubbing and warring. Grandfather said taxes were painfully high and for this reason he was certain a revolt was coming.
Grandfather once told us that he was in favor of starting over with Catalonia and purging the rest of the government’s ministers. That was an interesting comment from someone who was the king of Northern Spain, and especially since he had watched our mother country become diminished greatly in the eyes of the world. One of the country’s greatest problems was safely transporting gold and silver, as it was being stolen with alarming regularity before the coin reached the treasury.
Even at a young age, I thought about easier ways to take money from place to place, and how to secure it along the way. It was obvious from grandfather’s concern that securing the money was the only way to show the rest of the world that Spain had control of its money. And showing control of the money would give Spain a means to regain its former status.
I was enjoying the learning process, and I asked grandfather so many questions he sometimes laughed and said I made his head spin. I was having a good time with everyone in my family, but it would not be that much longer before I would have some serious responsibilities, of this I was certain.
True to my prediction, that spring I helped the vintner prune the vines that grew the grapes to make the wine we sold in France. And just as we were finishing this task and the summer season was fast approaching, Uncle Carlos and his family came to stay at the hacienda. Aunt Melanie and my cousins spent an additional month with us before they had to go home. Uncle Carlos had gone in a different direction in a carriage followed by many wagons, all carrying kegs of wine that we had been storing from past harvests.
Soon after everyone left I was given new responsibilities that included helping to take care of the horses, goats and pigs. At night, I’d dream of happy things like friends and contests and swordfights where no one really got hurt. Yes, the dreams were always happy. At least, that is, until my younger sister, Susanah, was born in the January following my eighth birthday.
In April, my mother asked me to look after Susanah for a short while, as she had fed and burped her and it was now my turn to entertain the new baby.
My sister fascinated me. She was always smiling. She was happy. And the way she looked at me when I held her, or played with her, was beautiful. Her little hands could barely grasp one of my fingers. Her body was not much longer than my forearm. And I loved her. I loved playing with her; I loved holding her; I loved watching her toss her arms around and squeal with joy. We played for a little over an hour when she started to cry. I held her head just below my shoulder and above my heart. She quieted quickly and went to sleep. I marveled at how fragile she was, and I gently placed Susanah on her bed and went to see my mother.
“Who’s watching Susanah?” my mother asked.
“I put her on her bed after she fell asleep on my chest,” I said, somewhat proudly.
“You’re such a good brother,” Mother said, patting my head as she spoke.
When I went to check on my little sister an hour later, my piercing wail of ‘Noooo!” brought everyone in the house to Susanah’s bedside.
There I was, holding this tiny child, and she was all blue and not breathing. After that my dreams were not always pleasant.