The church called Santa Maria de la Roseta had a long and illustrious history before that day, Henry Hudson was sure of that. There were indications among the rubble that it must have been there for several hundred years. In fact, Henry saw one plaque on a broken pillar with the Roman numerals for 1711. Yes, it must have been a very beautiful and memorable church in its day.
But today its purpose was a lot more pragmatic and important to Henry. Its thick stone walls—those that were still standing—gave him protection from the mortar shells and sharpshooter bullets that had threatened his life for the past week. It wasn’t a large church, but it afforded enough space for each of the 22 wounded Republican soldiers to lie on the ground, relatively protected from the dust and shrapnel that surrounded their hilltop.
Henry looked up at the clear blue morning sky through the open ceiling and frowned. It was going to be another hot day, but at least it wouldn’t rain like it had done yesterday. He wished there was more he could do for the wounded, but without proper medicine and food, well, at least he was giving them water from the nearby well.
“Horse,” Antonio said from the nearby wall. He sat at the window, looking out at the devastated nearby orchard, watching for snipers and waiting for the inevitable attack.
“Caballo,” Henry said quietly in response.
“El caballo,” Antonio said, correcting him. “Always include the article, because unlike English we have a male and female article for our nouns. And you need to know which one it is.”
Henry looked up. “So if it’s a mare, is it la caballo?”
Julio laughed loud, above them on the rafter. “Amigo, how long have you been here in España?”
“Six months,” Henry said, checking a wound on an officer lying to the side. “I think the colonel’s wound is opened up again.”
“We are out of bandages,” Julio said. “Use your undershirt.” Julio watched as Henry dutifully took off his shirt and then the dirty inner shirt, tearing it into strips.
“How it is that you have been here so long and still do not know to speak Spanish?”
Henry shrugged, separating the new bandages into a pile and taking one for the colonel. “I’ve been busy.”
“But six months, muerte. It would seem that you would pick up at least something during that time.”
“Leave him alone,” Antonio said to Julio. “We are doing our best.”
“Hey Henry,” Julio said. “I will give you a sentence to memorize. It will maybe save your life. Repeat after me. Yo me rindo.”
“Yo me rindo,” Henry repeated, putting his outer shirt back on. A bullet zipped overhead, and Julio ducked instinctively. “What does it mean?” Henry asked.
Julio burst into laughter again, and Antonio shook his head, smiling. “It means, ‘I surrender.’”
Henry stood and looked at the two. “Yo me rindo,” he said again.
Julio laughed again, then stopped suddenly. “I do not think you will get an opportunity to use it. The fascista do not take prisoners.”
Julio and Antonio exchanged a grim look, then Antonio nodded in agreement at Henry. “That is true, my friend. I know that you don’t believe in guns, but it may be the time to reconsider their use.”
“That’s all right,” Henry said. “I will take my chances with tending the wounded.” As he stood there, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a photo of the girl he left behind. He looked at it longingly for a long moment.
“You should never have left Rose,” Antonio said. “Even if it was for a good reason.”
“Rose?” Henry said. “She’s just a childhood friend.”
Antonio chuckled. “You may say that, but I know better.” He looked outside, as if wishing he were somewhere else.
“All right, Henry,” Antonio said. “Translate this for me: Take me to the hospital.”
Henry thought for a minute. “Llévame al hospital.”
“Bueno,” Antonio said, and Julio clapped his hands. In response, they heard a roar and everyone ducked their heads as a mortar round exploded just outside the walls. The dust was still falling as two more men ran into the building. Both of them carried something in their arms, with their rifles slung over their shoulders. The lead man fell to his knees beside the nearest wounded soldier and deposited a double-handful of green apples onto the ground. The others took immediate interest.
“Those are green,” Antonio said. “They will give you a stomach ache.”
“I don’t care,” Julio said, dropping from the rafter and grabbing two of them. “I am hungry. Thank you, Pablo. Andrés.”
“I sent the two of you out there to scout, and you come back with green apples?” Antonio said, staring hard at the two young men who had just arrived.
Pablo stood up and turned toward Antonio. “We did scout. They are still out there. Perhaps a hundred soldiers, two armored cars, and a tank.”
“A tank?” Julio said. “How can we fight against a tank?”
“Well, it is a very small tank,” Pablo said.
“It looked big to me,” Andrés said.
“In any case we need to leave,” Julio said.
“We can’t leave,” Henry said, standing up. “We have wounded.”
“Who asked the American?” Pablo said. “I know I didn’t.”
Antonio nodded. “Henry is right. If we leave, these wounded are as good as dead. Our orders are to stay here and protect them until the brigade returns with transportation.”
“Our brigade?” Julio said. “You say that as if they were just over the hill. They have been gone a week, and we are still here.”
Antonio’s lips grew thin. “We stay and fight if we must. Those are our orders.”
Julio and the others grumbled, but as Henry watched, they went back to their places on the wall. A few minutes later, Julio spoke up.
“I see movement out there,” he said. “It looks like we have company coming.”
“Ready, brothers,” Antonio said. “Henry, bring the ammunition as needed. Remember that this is for our families, our homes and our country.” Henry stood, feeling helpless as the others climbed into positions to shoot. A moment later, guns began going off. In response, he heard machine guns and mortars booming outside.
As he watched, he saw Julio fall from his place on the second floor, a bullet through his head. A minute later, Andrés fell as well, machine gun bullets ripping across his body.
“More ammunition!” Pablo shouted from the window where he stood. Henry picked up the box of bullets and brought them to Pablo at the window. Pablo reached for the loose bullets for his bolt-action rifle, but as Henry watched, an explosion just outside the window threw shrapnel in his face, killing him instantly and splashing blood in Henry’s face. He stood staring for a long moment, shocked, then saw the black line of soldiers outside rapidly approaching the church.
“Henry!” he heard behind him, and turned to see his old friend, Antonio at the far window. He ran over with the ammunition box, and started to pick up the rifle that Julio had dropped. Antonio shook his head.
“This is not your fight, my brother,” Antonio said, his voice sad. “I am sorry I brought you into this.” He reached out and took Henry’s hand. “We are long way from the university.”
Henry nodded. “I made the decision to come.”
“Go back home,” Antonio said. “Go back to Rose.”
“I will…if I can,” he said. He looked out the window at the mass of soldiers, the trucks and the dark shadow of a tank in the distance. “What about them?” he said, gesturing at the wounded.
“Perhaps,” Antonio started. “Perhaps the fascista are more merciful than we have heard.” They stared at each other, bullets flying over their heads, mortars exploding outside. Then Henry nodded.
He ran to the pile of white rags he had made from his undershirt. He took the gun that he had considered using against the enemy and tied a white flag onto its barrel. Then he slowly walked back to the window where Antonio stood, and gave Antonio the gun.
“Yo me rindo!” Henry shouted as Antonio held the white flag outside the window. “Yo me rindo!”
The little church of Santa Maria de la Roseta had seen many memorable events over the past two centuries. It had seen its share of weddings, babies and funerals. But the broken walls and shattered ruins paid no mind to the soldiers on that hilltop, some to bask in victory, some to be bayoneted where they lay, one to be delivered to prison…and one who was sent home.