The Conquistador

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Chapter 3

“Are you sure you’re alright Agustin”? Concerned, Antonio approached the distraught pick-pocket who was slumped on a stool. Agustin choked a sob and covered his face with his hands.

“No. No I’m not okay Antonio” he said. His voice cracked and his posture was dim with sleep. He’d cried all night last night and barely got a wink of sleep, yet here he was, collecting money for his sister and other slum families.

“I am sorry for your loss Agustin. But you have to tell her” Antonio said gently. He handed Agustin an apple and he graciously took it. He bit into the juicy flesh, the sugary water dripping down his mouth and onto his shirt. Agustin wiped it off with his sleeve.

“I don’t want to” he said.

“As much as you don’t want to mi amigo, it is her health. She has to know that she’s gonna-”

“Don’t say it! Don’t you dare say it Antonio! I don’t wanna hear that crap this early in the morning! She’s not going to die. Hear me?! Not going to die! She’ll live. Dora’s strong. She’ll get through this”! Agustin snapped. His voice trembled and for the first time in his life, though he couldn’t believe it, Antonio realized that Agustin was scared. Scared to lose his only sister to smallpox. He loved her so much he was forcing himself not to accept the truth of her demise, and it only hurt him more.

“...Sorry. I shouldn’t have yelled” Agustin apologized. Antonio shook his head.

“No. You have every right to be distraught. I apologize for pushing you” Antonio said. Agustin sighed. He wiped his face with his hands.

“I-I don’t know what to do Antonio. I-I want to believe she’ll survive. That she’ll be the sister I had before, but deep down I think I know she’ll never be the same. I think I always knew that she wouldn’t survive this” he said. Antonio winced. He could see how much this was hurting Agustin to say.

“You’d do anything for Dora, wouldn’t you”? Antonio asked.

“What kind of question is that? Of course I would”! Agustin’s voice broke “I love her”.

“Then you have to let her go” Antonio said gently.

“That’s the problem Antonio! I can’t! I keep trying! But then I see her broken face, begging me to help her and I can’t give up! I love her too much to do that”! Agustin cried. A few people turned their faces at his outburst and he covered his face ashamedly. Antonio frowned. For Agustin not to snap back must have meant that he was really upset. Devastated, actually.

“I’m sorry” Antonio repeated. Agustin nodded glumly, turning his head.

“I-I’ll tell Dora” he said, his voice so quiet Antonio almost didn’t hear him.

“What”?

“I’ll tell her. I’ll take her disappointment” Agustin said. He choked back another sob and Antonio put a hand on his shoulder.

“Are you sure there’s no other way”? He asked. Agustin shook his head.

“No. I talked to Doctor Lopez. Nobody’s survived smallpox” he said.

“Maybe Dora will be the first” Antonio said hopefully. Agustin sighed.

“I wouldn’t bet on it” he said. “But what can I do? I-I’ll have to let go”.

“It hurts, doesn’t it”? Antonio asked. Agustin nodded.

“Like hell. It’s like a fire that can’t be contained. It wants to spread wildly, consume my whole body”!

“I wish I could do something, but I can’t” Antonio said sadly. Agustin shook his head.

“What could you do? It’s not like you have magic” he said.

“No, but I wish I had some type of drink that could help your sister” Antonio said.

“Excuse me”? A rough, familiar accented voice asked. Agustin whipped his fiery eyes to the lean looking Hernán, who raised an eyebrow in his direction.

“Rest easy mi amigo! I’m not here to hurt you”! Hernán said, raising his hands up. Agustin eyed him, a finger tapping his chin.

“What do you want”? He asked harshly. Hernán looked him up and down.

“You have been crying” he noticed.

“No really”? Agustin asked.

“Why”? Hernán asked. Agustin sighed.

“My sister was diagnosed with smallpox. She’s dying”. Agustin’s voice broke again, and he wiped his eyes roughly. Hernán clapped his shoulder and shook it gently.

“I am sorry for your loss” he said. A roguish twinkle sparkled in his eye “But what if I say that I can save her”?

“How”? Agustin’s head shot up and he looked Hernán dead in the eye. “Tell me”.

“Agustin” Antonio warned. Agustin ignored him. Hernán smiled cruelly. Love makes a man go blind, they say. Perhaps he can use this to his advantage.

“In the New World” he began “there is a cure for smallpox. However, it is held by a strong tribe. If you want it, you will have to help me take over the city”.

“What? That’s ridiculous! Do you know how many lives you’d put at risk”? Antonio asked. Hernán shrugged. Quite frankly, he could care less how many people he killed. He’d heard of the rich King of the Aztecs, Montezuma and craved the riches he had. All he needed were a few extra men on his ship and there was nothing the high and mighty Mayor of Cuba Diego Velázquez could do about it! He’d be rich! Rich he’d yell!

Not only could Agustin be helpful, but his petty wealthy friend too. The size of that man! God he could take out probably five men with one punch! Pity he was a family man. He would-will do well in the army.

“Hernán”? The questioning voice of Agustin snapped the explorer back to reality. He plastered a fake smile onto his face, eyes twinkling greedily.

“Well? Will you be joining me”? He asked. Agustin frowned. Just a moment ago, Hernán was composed and cool, his voice as soft as velvet. Now, he suddenly sounded rushed and violent. His eyes had a dim, wild look and he smiled a bit too widely for Agustin or Antonio’s liking.

“We’d...like to discuss this together first. Then we’ll give you your answer” Antonio spoke, his voice holding no room for any argument. Any smart man would know when to pick a fight. Hernán stepped aside.

“I understand” he said, his voice like dark, rich wine. Agustin gulped reflexively.

“And I need to discuss this with my sister. She is in no state to be left alone and I would rather be with her to her dying day”, Agustin swallowed “But if it means finding a cure for her, then I shall try and convince her otherwise”. Hernán nodded and tipped his hat.

“Understood. I’ll see you tomorrow, yes? That is when my ship leaves”. His dark shadow dropped above his mouth, covering the sinister smile it had tipped into. Agustin was a man dumber than he looked. If a doctor already said she wouln’t survive, then Agustin was on his last thread of hope. Love makes a man blind. Hernán had no doubt Agustin would be joining them. And if Agustin joined, then so did Antonio. He had just killed two birds with one stone.

“He’s an odd one, isn’t he”? Antonio asked. Agustin continued to stare at Hernán’s departing figure. Men and woman parted a path for him and his every step, as if he was some God.

“He seems a bit narcissistic to me” Agustin muttered. He threw the apple core onto the dirt. A dirty, beaten dog hobbled up and began to lick it. Agustin could already see the ants crawling up the apple.

“That is like Dora” he said. Antonio glanced at the apple.

“How”? He asked. Agustin sighed. He placed a hand over his heart and flinched.

“She is the core. The once heart of all beauty. And now look. Smallpox is devouring her slowly. Each bit down until nothing but bones are left” he explained. Suddenly, Agustin’s eyes widened. He threw a hand over his mouth and began to cough wildly. Antonio slapped him on the back and watched at the coughing died down.

"Gracias Antonio. I-I do not know what that was” Agustin said, a bit shocked.

“You better not be catching smallpox with Dora Agustin” Antonio warned. “I’d better not be standing by your grave in a couple of months”. Agustin laughed weakly, scratching his arm under his sleeve.

“It’s nothing Antonio. You worry too much. I will be fine” he said, closing his eyes and coughing weakly. Antonio raised a skeptic eyebrow.

“I have children Agustin. I know a sickness when I see it. Be careful and don’t stay around Dora too much” he said. Agustin snorted.

“You saying that is like telling me to go a day without water. Impossible” he said.

“Actually, it is possible. It would just deteriorate your health” Antonio said matter-o-factly. Agustin gave him a deadpan look.

“Thank you Captain Obvious” he said. Antonio bowed.

“You’re welcome” he said. He picked a broom up and began to sweep the shop. Agustin watched his every step and every dust cloud fly onto his pants. The ants scattered into their homes as Antonio’s broom neared the apple core and Agustin hoped the core was still in one peace. When the dust and soot cleared, however, all that was left were a couple of seeds and a very rotten core.

“Do-Are you going to accept Hernán’s proposal”? Agustin asked, mildly distracted by the visible sight of the core.

“Are you”? Antonio asked pointedly. Agustin sighed and looked up from the ground. Antonio could see how alike him and Dora were, looking him straight in the face. Same mischievous glint in their eyes, same thin, stick like arms. Same dusty brown skin. Whenever either one were nervous, they wringed their hands together, twisting and poking them through made up holes.

“Maybe. I have to ask Dora” Agustin said.

“Why do you have to ask Dora”? Antonio asked.

“Why do you have to ask your wife”? Agustin retorted. Antonio opened his mouth to respond, then shut it.

“My thoughts exactly” Agustin said smugly. Antonio ignored him.

“I don’t trust Hernán” he said instead. Agustin swung his feat on the stool.

“He does seem a bit...different, I’ll give you that. But he said he knew of a place where I could find a cure for Dora”! Agustin said. Antonio wrinkled his nose.

“And you believed him”? He asked.

“What’s not to believe”?

“Agustin, Hernán himself has never been to this New World. We don’t know what’s there, or if this group of people even exist. For all we know, Hernán could just be using us for his own personal gain”.

“How”?

“Seriously Agustin? It’s no secret the man dislikes Diego Velázquez. What if he’s just trying to overthrow him? Diego may not be the best man in the world, but he is certainly better than a cunning mayor like Hernán”.

“Maybe” Agustin drawled “But it’s a risk I have to take”.

“Just you”? Antonio asked, appalled.

“Don’t you have a family? I thought you wouldn’t be coming”? There was a cheeky pleasure in Agustin’s voice. One that Antonio realized was when Agustin got his way. Antonio cursed under his breath.

“What was that? Speak louder mi amigo! I can’t hear you”! Agustin smiled smugly. He knew he’d roped Antonio into going. He just had to get the older man to say it.

“Alright” Antonio finally conceded. I’ll discuss it with my wife. You discuss with Dora. We’ll meet tomorrow at eight by the docks”.

“How will we know Hernán’s boat”? Agustin asked. He jumped off the steps and slung his bag of goods over his shoulder.

“Oh, I think we’ll know. Just look for the flashiest man at the docks”. Antonio looked away glumly “I have a feeling we’re all in for a bull show”.

*****

Dora knew something was wrong the moment Agustin walked into the house. His eyes were puffy from crying and he slouched as he walked. He hadn’t showered and dust and grime covered his clothes. His hair was unruly and his eyes didn’t glow with their usual excitement. She winced as she tried to get up from the bed. Last night’s events were still hazy in her mind, but she could remember the doctor coming and Agustin breaking down. It broke her heart to see him in pain, though he didn’t know it. He’d been by her side for so long. Even when he told her Daniel was no good for her, she still ignored him. And look where that got her. In bed, dying, with smallpox.

“Agustin”? She whispered. Her throat hurt and she pressed her fingertips to her Adam’s apple to dull the pain. Agustin’s head shot up and he dropped the bag he was carrying. He rushed to her side.

“Are you okay”? He asked. Dora shook her head.

“No” she croaked. “My back hurts like hell and so does my head. These bumps aren’t going away and my stomach doesn’t want to digest anything”! Agustin rubbed her back.

“I know Dora. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry” he murmured.

“Why are you sorry? If I had listened to you and stayed away from Daniel then I could’ve been healthy right now. It’s my fault”! She cried. Her bottom lip trembled, but she willed herself not to cry in front of Agustin. Then he’d start crying too. The fire burned in her stomach, guilt knawing her insides. If she’d just listened to him...

“You were young and in love Dora. I can’t blame you for that. If anything, all I’ve been doing has been crying and wasting my life away on the streets. I haven’t been staying with you” Agustin said. He pressed his palm to Dora’s forehead and resisted the urge to retch it away. Her forehead was burning and it made Agustin realize how deep in the hole she actually was in. If he didn’t hurry and help Hernán conquer the empire, then he wouldn’t be able to save Dora. Not saving Dora meant she’d die, which meant that-

“Agustin”? Dora’s worried voice broke him out of his thoughts. “Are you alright”? Agustin opened his mouth to answer, but a violent cough seized his words and pushed them back down his throats. He could barely feel Dora’s weak hand slapping his back as each cough sucked a breath out of him.

“Agustin? Should I go get the doctor?! Are you getting sick”? Dora asked hurriedly. Agustin willed himself to stop when he remembered that he was worrying her, which meant that he was making her even more sick.

“No. No I’m fine” he said, forcing the next cough down his throat and waving her concern aside. “I have other things to worry about than a measly cough”.

“Agustin! How many times have I told you that your health comes first”? Dora scolded. Agustin cursed under his breath.

“One too many” he muttered. Dora paused to cough lightly, then gave him a stern look.

“Did anything happen today? You separated the rations, right”? She asked. Agustin nodded.

“Yes, but...” he faltered.

“But what? Did Mrs. Imelda say something again”? Dora asked. Agustin shook his head.

“No....did I ever tell you about Hernán”?

“Who”?

“Great. So I didn’t”. Agustin sighed and rubbed his face with his hands. Dora didn’t move.

“So who is he”? She asked.

“A young explorer sent by Diego Velázquez. I think. He didn’t seem very fond of him. Anyway, he offered for Antonio and I to accompany him to the New World” Agustin explained. Dora’s eyes lit up excitedly.

“You get to see the New World?! Lucky! I-I wish I could come” she said sadly. Agustin placed his hand over hers.

“You will one day” he said.

“How? I’m dying, aren’t I”? Dora asked.

“No. Hernán offered me a cure. He said there was a special medicine in the New World and if I joined him, I’d be able to retrieve it for you” Agustin said excitedly. Dora smiled softly.

“Are you sure you want to do this though? Don’t you think that Hernán is tricking you”? She asked.

“How”?

“He has a reputation for being cunning y’know. Diego isn’t all to blame”.

“I understand, but-” Agustin held Dora’s hands, squeezing them gently “I’d do anything for you Dora. You’re my sister. The only person I have left. I can’t lose you. I-I love you”! He squeezed his eyes and felt his eyes water again. Dora slowly smiled and reached up to wipe his tears.

“I know. I love you too Agustin” she said quietly “but you have to learn to let go. I~One day I will really die. Then what will you do”?

“I’ll die with you” he said resolutely. Dora sighed.

“You’re missing the whole point Agustin! You need to live for yourself”! She tried raising her voice, but the scars on her throat burned and she began to cough. Agustin reached for a cup of cold water and helped her drink the smooth, cold liquid, soothing her throat.

“Gracias” she murmured.

“I know you keep telling me to live for myself Dora, and I will! Just, just let me cure you first”. His voice came out broken and Dora sighed.

“If this means so much to you-” she traced the lines of worry on his face, ignoring how pale he’d become “then you can go. J-Just, be safe Agustin”. Agustin brought her scarred and bumpy hand to his lips, placing small pecks on each bruise.

“I will”.

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