The boy, dressed in black, walked in quietly, with an even pace, and went straight toward the Emperor without raising his eyes, as he had been taught. He knelt at the Emperor’s chair and kissed his hand. “Sire.”
“Stand up, lad. Let me have a look at you.”
He was a small, serious boy, with brown eyes and a short haircut. Seeing him, the Emperor remembered the boy’s mother, her great auburn tress and those same serious eyes.
“Smile for me.”
“The boy forced a grin.” Yes, yes, that was Barbara! That girlish smile of obedience, of curiosity, but not, alas, of love. Other of her attributes crossed his mind for a second, attributes that had excited him twelve years before.
He has our lip but not our troublesome jaw, the Emperor thought. Lucky child!
“What is your name?”
“Jerónimo, Sire. But I am called Jeromín.”
“Your father says you like riding and hunting, Jeromín.”
“Yes, Sire. And feats of arms.”
The Emperor smiled: “feats of arms”. The boy must have been reading books about knights and chivalry. Charles himself was raised with a love for those books. His favorite was Le Chevalier Délibéré by Olivier de la Marche. It was a sort of fairy tale and manual at the same time. He had even tried to translate it into Spanish once. And now at Yuste he brought along a copy, to have one more look at it before he left this silly world. He too had loved horses and fencing and dreamed of heroic deeds of war and beautiful, fainting damsels.
“They tell me you like books,” the Emperor said, changing to French. That was Charles’ mother-tongue and he wanted to see how the boy was getting on with it in that Valladolid castle.
“Oui, mon Sire,” answered Jeromín, without hesitation. “Je adore Le Amadis de Gaule et aussi Les Vies de Plutarque.”
“Plutarch, eh? What do you think of Julius Caesar?”
“He was a great man, Sire, but I don’t know why he let them kill him. He should have fought them until Mark Anthony came to help.”
“Maybe he was tired of fighting, lad,” said Charles.
The boy was too young to understand Charles’ reasons for abdicating and retiring to the little monastery in the mountains of Extremadura. He had put down his sword. Though he had done much fighting he had failed in the two great aims of his life: to put an end to the Protestant revolt and to defeat the Turks.
How it would have cheered him to know that the boy in front of him, his son by the Salzburg singer, would one day lead a great naval force and defeat the Turks at Lepanto! The world would know him not as Jeromín but as Don John of Austria.
A few more times the Emperor talked with little Jeromín at Yuste. He did not tell him that he was his father. But weeks before Charles died, with Quijada as a witness, he added a codicil to his will in which he revealed to his son Philip, the reigning monarch of Spain, that he had a brother and asked him to treat Jeromín as a person of his rank deserved.