Blood in the Valencian Soil (Secrets of Spain)

BOOK: Blood in the Valencian Soil (Secrets of Spain)




Love and hate hidden in the legacy of the

Spanish Civil War











No part of this publication may be reproduced by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any information storage retrieval system without the written permission of the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

The characters and situations in this book are purely fictional and are not based on any person, living or dead.

Copyright © 2012 Caroline Angus Baker

photo by Martyn Baker

All rights reserved.

ISBN: 978-1475280982




Then I realised I had been murdered. They looked for me in cafes, cemeteries and churches …. but they did not find me. They never found me? No. They never found me.


~ Federico Garcia Lorca



Cuenca, España ~ marzo de 1939


“Come on, Luna! They will be here by now!”

Luna Beltrán Caño looked away from the window of her bedroom. Her view looked across the gorge towards a monastery, which rose from the fog that sat between the mountains on the chilly spring day. Cuenca was once a medieval fortress precariously built on a hilltop, and now was an isolated little town. The deep gorge of the Huécar river that surrounded the town was still shrouded in the fog. Any evil could lurk down there, the same kind that caused the original inhabitants to wall around the town for protection 1300 years ago.

She picked
up her unassuming brown coat from the only chair that adorned the sparse room. She was lucky that she owned something to keep her warm. Luna was a young woman with many luxuries in her life, like her single bed that had two blankets on it this year, and she was even able to wash them semi-regularly. On the wall over a small wooden table where she kept her diary, she had hung a mirror. Her father had bought it for his wife, but now Luna had inherited it. She looked at herself, her curly black hair was pulled back in a ponytail. Her cheeks had thinned over the winter; the shortage of food in the town wasn’t new. The farm labourers ventured further and further from the safe outskirts of the town into the mountains in search of places to grow crops or herd livestock. Many never returned. Every day there seemed to be fewer men in the town. Families had fled the town for Catalonia or the Basque country in the north, and they were never heard of again. Nowhere was safe during a civil war.

The war had raged for almost three years now, and its intensity only continued to grow. Cuenca was flanked by the
Republican stronghold of Madrid to the west and the Republican port of Valencia to the east. The Republicano zone continue to lose ground to Franco’s rebel fascist troops, or Nacionales as they called themselves, and stories of immense atrocities spread far and wide.

ow the threat of Franco’s army crossing the mountains and into Cuenca was about to become a reality. Men ran from the town in pursuit of adventure; to support the Republican fight against Franco and his brutal army, only to become barbarians themselves as their blood spilled into the soil that they fought to rule.

Fighting and instability was all Luna knew. She was 20 years old, and her whole life, her world had been fighting. The war may have only been three years old, but she couldn’t remember a time where things were calm. She knew how lucky she was – they lived in town and they owned a home. M
any did not. Most had been at the mercy of landowners, nothing more than peasants who worked for the wealthy. People were treated like slaves, traded like cattle, their desperation for work and food exploited. No wonder España’s population had divided themselves and decided to rise up to defend themselves. Luna was only 12 when revolution came in España, not old enough to understand. She had never been to school, couldn’t read and write at that time. She was lucky that her father was educated enough to teach her as she grew older. The Second Republic, founded in 1931 promised an equal society, but that never came. She remembered her anarchist father getting her mother, Isabel, to vote in 1931, when women were first given the chance. Again, no change came, just in-fighting. People were poor, humiliated, unheard. No wonder civil war came in 1936. Franco’s rebel army had flooded into Spain from Morocco and the bloodletting had begun. The group, supported by fascists, monarchists and religious conservatives couldn’t simply take España, because the Republicans were prepared to hold on to their country. Luna’s mother had been a Catholic, but her father’s new-found hate of the church and State meant that Luna couldn’t find solace in her religion anymore. The church was seen as oppressive, as was the army, who hated anyone who had an opinion on anything other than the unity and control of España. The fabric of society had well and truly broken down over the course of her short lifetime. The socialists, anarchists and communists who worked together under the Republican flag had held on to parts of España, with the help of a large group of international volunteers. But now, three years on, España was weary. Her people were weary. The Republican spirit had faded to the oppression of the Franco army.

Luna stepped through the door that separated her own room from the rest of the house, passed through the room that her brother and his wife occupied, and through into the living space. The Beltrán Caño family was one of the blessed families who had
managed to avoid starvation throughout this difficult time. The textile business that their father Juan Pablo help run, along with the town’s anarchist co-operative, had managed to stay afloat, thanks to the supplies he bought from Barcelona. At least the supplies were still in demand in the region of Castile-La Mancha. Her father was away in Madrid, which left her with just her older brother, Alejandro, and his wife, Sofía.

“Sí, sí, I’m coming!” Luna
replied. Her sister-in-law stood at the front door of the house across the small room. Sofía was a nurse, and her uniform was tight now that she was nine months pregnant. “You know Alejandro will come right to the house, don’t you?”

“I want to be there when he gets
out of the truck,” Sofía said impatiently, and watched Luna put on her basic black shoes. The puddles that formed between the cobbles outside were a real pain, because their shoes leaked. Sofía was on her damp feet all day at the hospital and so uncomfortable because of her pregnancy. At least Luna’s skirts were not as long as the full-length white ones Sofía had to wear at the hospital. Sofía’s soaked up the dirty water on the steps that made up the narrow streets between the house and the hospital, which only added to the misery of her life. But none of that mattered; today her husband of only six months was home from Valencia again. As long as Sofía had Alejandro at home in Cuenca, nothing else mattered to her.

Luna checked the fire in the stove, and the two young women stepped out onto the narrow road that was cold and damp in the shade. The women walked up the streets made of countless rows of stone steps. They were all alone on the street, all the other houses around them still shut up tight.

“I’m so glad they’re back,” Luna said. “I’m not sure how much more of this I can take.”

“Because you miss your brother or because you miss Cayetano?” Sofía teased.

“I worry for Alejandro, of course! He’s my brother. He engages in these dangerous trips, and the worry keeps me awake at night.”

“I know the feeling. With Alejandro back in Cuenca, I will be sure
to keep him awake in bed,” Sofía giggled.

“But you’re pregnant.”

“I know that, Luna. How do you think I got into this dilemma with your brother? You’re the most innocent 20-year-old girl I know.”

“I know how it works, Sofía. Remember that I have to sleep in the next room. I’m not a little girl.”

“Do you need to confess some impure thoughts again?”

Luna threw her a sly look. “I won’t share anything with you again. Besides, the day of being able to seek guidance from the church is long gone. Not since the mobs burned the church and killed most of the clergy here. We may be fighting for a liberal society, but yet I don’t find
anyone fighting for my rights or beliefs.”

“And that’s why your mind is occupied with dreams of the moment you make your way into Cayetano Ortega’s bed?”

“Oh, would you stop! You know Papá has arranged for me to marry Ignacio in Madrid.”

“The man is a bore, Luna. He looks so ill all the time. ”

“Yes, but if marry him, then Papá’s business and Ignacio’s family’s business can merge and do well together. Times are hard enough. We need to own a business once the war is over, for our own safety and survival.”

“They don’t need your marriage for that.”

“No, but Papá thinks that Ignacio would make a suitable husband. Plus they need someone to carry on the family name.”

“So you’re willing to pop out babies for the sake of textile businesses? That’s cold.”

Luna sighed. “I like Ignacio. He is a gentleman. He is sophisticated, friendly, considerate, and wealthy. I could do worse. Much worse.”

“You forgot love, Luna. Ignacio is a Falange member. Your father is just getting cosy with the enemy for his safety. He is
a pig, you know that, don’t you? Juan Pablo is playing with fire.”

“I will love Ignacio. But since he lives in Madrid, I never get to see him.”

“Then why don’t you just move to Madrid?”

“And leave you and Alejandro? You know why I still live here. I wanted to be with Mamá until she died.”

“I know,” Sofía said and placed her hand on her best friend’s shoulder. “I’m not trying to be nasty. I’m not.”

“Alejandro told Cayetano unequivocally that he has to stay away from me. Ignacio should be the man for me.”

“Alejandro says that because he knows what kind of man Cayetano is.”

Ale and Caya are as bad as each other!”

“We all have different expectations in life, Luna. In a few weeks from now, we could all be dead. It’s that simple. You saw what happened when the
Republicans first claimed Cuenca for themselves…”

“Yes, the priests’ bodies we
re dumped in the street while the church burned.”

“Exactly. If I’
m going to be raped and murdered when the Franco army sweep through here soon, I want to know that I married the man I loved while I had the chance. Alejandro is not perfect, but he’s a hero.”

“He drives people from Madrid to Valencia! Hardly a noble task!”

“That’s all Cayetano does! The trip from Madrid to Valencia is dangerous, Madrid is surrounded on three sides, and the roads to Valencia were bombed. It’s a risk. Cayetano is a drinker, and a womaniser, just like Alejandro was. They are more noble than any fascist bastardo. But we love who we love.”

“Alejandro loves you, Sofía. There is no doubt about that. He is my brother, and I love him. I don’t care what he does for money, the same way you don’t care. Alejandro and Cayetano be may not be in the
Republican army now, but they fought in Madrid, Jarama, Guadalajara, Teruel… they’re lucky to still be alive.”

“I think Alejandro, Cayetano and Scarlett do a fantastic thing now! The more people they can help out of Madrid and to Valencia, and then off to a safer place, the better. Maybe we should be the ones fleeing to Valencia while we still can.”

The pair turned a corner and stepped into the pale spring sunshine. There on the edge of the hillside was the small truck. Alejandro and Cayetano stood next to the open door at the front of the vehicle, and Scarlett sat in the driver’s seat. Alejandro glanced over to see his wife and sister coming in his direction. He dropped his cigarette on the path and dashed over to Sofía, and gathered her and their baby into his arms.

Luna stood back with a smile. Alejandro and Sofía were so in love.
She could see her brother’s face wet with tears as he held his wife. He had only been gone three weeks, but the roads from Madrid to Valencia were the next target for the Franco army and the front lines of the war were only miles from Cuenca now. There were soldiers ready to shoot anything that moved in every valley. It would have been the most dangerous trip yet. Alejandro Beltrán Caño knew the obligation he had to his family, but he wanted adventure. Alejandro had wanted to fight the army and the onslaught that they brought to his nation. He wanted to look a Falange member in the eye as he speared the life from him, and had done so many times during the war. The Republicans desperately wanted to save their country. With the aid of his friend, Cayetano Ortega, he had almost built up enough cash to ferry the whole family out of España while the war raged. People in Madrid would pay what little money they had to have their families and their belongings driven from the uncertainty and starvation of Madrid to Valencia in the back of a small truck, so they could set sail for Francia.

Buenos días, Señorita Luna.”

Luna turned at the sound of Cayetano’s voice. She savoured every word she heard from the man’s mouth. His voice was deep, and it sent a sensation through her body that she wasn’t sure she could trust. She was reluctant to look him in the eye for fear of what it did to her. “B
uenos días, Cayetano,” she said, and dared to look at the tall man. He held his dirty brown cap in his unwashed fist as he tried to tidy his uncombed curly black hair with his other hand. “Welcome home again.”

“How have things been here? How are you?”

“I’m fine,” she shrugged. “Sofía has been unwell.”

ano nodded. “I saw your father in Madrid. He is worried for you and Sofía. But he is too busy to come home. We suggested that he stays in Madrid for a little longer.”

“Papá is safe? I have been so worried.”

“Your father is fine. Alejandro will try to get back to Madrid next week with the truck and visit him. Your Papá will be okay. The Beltrán family will be back together soon.”

“Luna,” Scarlett said sternly. Luna looked over at the woman and squinted in the sunlight. She wasn’t sure what to make of Scarlett. “I’m sorry to hear
that your mother passed away last month.”

Gracias,” she mumbled in return. Luna found her intimidating. Scarlett Montgomery had been a nurse with the International Brigade based out in Huete, but after the camp had been bombed, she travelled the 60 kilometres to Cuenca to work at the hospital, where she was befriended by Sofía. Scarlett was from a far off country, Nueva Zelanda, and had sailed to España in the hope of aiding the less fortunate caught up in the war. But now Scarlett had become disillusioned and had left nursing to help her friends Cayetano and Alejandro get people out of the country. Luna had no idea what Scarlett did with her share of the money. Now that her husband, Ulrich, a German soldier with the International Brigade, was dead, who knew what her plans were.

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