Antonio tapped his foot and whistled a low tune as he waited for Agustin to arrive. It took a while to convince Maria, but once he promised he wouldn’t be long, she let him go. Women these days.
The ocean was calm today. Waves crashed softly on the wooden bridges and ships swayed to the silky beat. Antonio shifted his weight on a splintered post, eyes searching the beach for Agustin. Tired, bulky men like himself loaded boxes of food onto a large, royal ship. A few of them nodded to Antonio and he nodded in return. Old army mates now reduced to working in the shipyard.
“Antonio? Is that you”? Hernán jogged up to him and Antonio bit back a groan. He straightened his posture and forced a smile at Hernán.
“Yes. It is. How are you Hernán”? He asked. Hernán grinned, giddy cruelty sparkling in his eyes.
“Better than ever. The Aztec Empire is soon to be mine”! He cackled “How could I not be fine”? He glanced around, eyes peering the port anxiously. “Is Agustin coming”?
“I’d hope so”. Antonio fixed the ripping strap on his bag and glanced at the beach again. The morning sun made the dry sand glimmer with hope and the seashells glowed faintly in farewell.
“We’re leaving in ten minutes. If he doesn’t come until then...“. Hernán nodded and skipped away to check his boat again. Antonio sighed.
“Where are you Agustin”? He murmured to himself “Don’t tell me something happened to Dora. That poor girl has enough on her shoulders already”.
Antonio still remembered when Dora began to get sick. She’d spent a few nights at Daniel’s house, and after they’d broken up, her coughing spree had begun. She’d assured them that it was nothing, but that coughing turned into vomiting which turned into bed-rest. The panic in Agustin’s eyes was still a sight to remember. He’d changed much after that. Became more down to earth and stopped visiting the local tavern every night. Before Dora’s illness, Agustin was what you could call a...runaround. Antonio had already lost count at how many women he’d been with. Perhaps that was why he didn’t trust Daniel. He could see a part of himself in the young boy.
“Antonio”! Agustin ran over to him. The sand kicked around his feet and for the first time in months, Agustin actually looked happy. The bags under his eyes had became lighter and almost invisible. Antonio did a double take at his appearance. And were those clothes washed?
“A-Agustin? Is that you”? He asked. As Agustin neared him, he frowned.
“Yes. Why”? He asked. Antonio rounded him a couple of times, then smiled.
“Nice to see you clean in such a long time” he said. Agustin flushed embarrassed.
“Well, Dora convinced me to clean my act up before going. It didn’t take much work though”. He sighed wistfully and Antonio raised an eyebrow.
“She actually let you come”? He asked.
“Yeah. It didn’t take much convincing when I told her we were gonna get a cure for her” Agustin explained.
“Agustin” Antonio said his name slowly “There is no hundred percent chance we’re getting a cure. For all we know-”
“~ Hernán could be tricking us. Yeah yeah yeah, I got it” Agustin said. “Don’t ruin the day and my hopes already Antonio”!
“Alright. Alright I won’t”. They began walking on the creaking board to the ship. It was a large wooden beauty with circles on the sides for canons and a large mast and sail. The hull was shiny and clean, free of barnacles and on the front of the ship was a statue of a woman with her arms crossed over her chest. Agustin whistled lowly.
“Nice ship” he murmured. Antonio grunted.
“Did you tell Dora goodbye today”? He asked. Agustin shook his head.
“I left a note” he said, his eyes tracing the slope of the woman’s belly. Antonio groaned. Maybe some people never really do change.
“So your telling me you didn’t say goodbye to your pride and joy, yet the whole reason we’re leaving our families behind is to get a cure for her”?! Agustin raised his hands up, placatingly.
“Relax Antonio! She was sleeping so soundly I couldn’t just wake her”! He defended.
“Are you sure she was sleeping and didn’t just die in her sleep”? Antonio asked. Agustin’s eyes flashed.
“What”? He said very slowly and deliberately. Antonio rolled his eyes.
“Nothing” he mumbled. Agustin nodded his head.
“Good” he said. He stopped at the bridge to one ship.
“Isn’t this the king’s ship”? He asked. Antonio squinted at the writing on the side.
“Looks like it” he said.
“How many ships does the King have”? Agustin wondered.
“Probably many. He does like to pick fights every now and then”. Antonio’s hand moved tentatively to his chest and Agustin winced.
“Bad memories”? He asked. Antonio sighed tiredly and shook his head.
“Not really. Just pain” he said. Agustin eyed him curiously, an absent hand tracing the intricate patterns on the ship.
“Why...if I may ask”?
“Do you really want to know”?
“If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be asking”. Antonio laughed dryly.
“True” he said. He sat with a soft thump on the docks step and motioned for Agustin to join him. Confused, Agustin sat a few feet away from him, waiting for him to begin.
“It was 1511. I was twenty-two, young, and foolish. I was friends with Diego Velázquez, Hernán’s enemy, so to speak” Antonio began.
“Wait, you were twenty-two”? Agustin asked. Antonio chuckled.
“I was. My family was poor and I never went to school, so I took the risk and joined him on his journey to Cuba”. Antonio put a hand over his chest and grimaced at the gentle touch. His fingertips brushed the rough fabric of his shirt gently as he pulled it down, revealing a dark, tan scar.
“Did you get that from...“?
“Yes” Antonio pulled his shirt up in haste to cover the scar. “We had a battle on Cuba for the land and I was wounded. Diego didn’t even spare me a second glance in the medic camp. In a way, he’s like Hernán, greedy for power”.
“So much for your friendship” Agustin muttered.
“It was a blow to my heart. We had been friends for so long, and to leave me lying on the battlefield? That ended whatever we had” Antonio said.
“Is that why you were hesitant to go on the quest? Because you might run into Diego”? Agustin asked. Antonio shrugged.
“That, and the face that I could get wounded like that again. It isn’t easy to hurt me, but the natives were smart. If Hernán plans on conquering an Empire, well, I have a family at home. What would they do without me? I am the sole breadwinner”! Antonio rubbed his face with his hands. “But, if this saves Dora, then count me in. That girl is like my one of my daughters”. Agustin smiled.
“Thank you Antonio” he murmured.
“For sticking by me. I didn’t think friends were real until I met you”.
“Eh, stop getting sappy on me boy”! But Antonio smiled, and Agustin knew he appreciated that.
“Anyway, shouldn’t we find Hernán”? Agustin coughed. Antonio looked around, then groaned.
“What”? Agustin asked. Antonio pointed behind him, where Hernán was sauntering to them.
“Speak of the Devil...” he snarled. Hernán had the widest grin on his face as he joined the two men. An almost, sinister, wide, grin. Agustin’s eyes narrowed on a dark scar forming on his cheek.
“What happened to you”? He asked. “Boat fight”?
“No. Just some men who don’t know their place on my ship” Hernán said with a wave of his hand. Agustin and Antonio shared a look.
“Oh...is it already time to leave”? Antonio asked. Hernán nodded.
“Yes. I was just coming to see if Agustin had already arrived”. He grinned at Agustin “Tell your sister goodbye”? Agustin scowled.
“Yeah. I told her I’d be back for her soon”. He leveled Hernán. “This cure better be real”. Hernán gasped.
“Are you accusing me of lying”? He claimed. Antonio gave him a deadpan look.
“No. Just making sure you know what’ll happen if this was all a wild witch hunt” he said. He stood up so his shadow would be cast over Hernán’s small frame. The former gulped.
“Understood”, he grated. “Come. We have a long way to travel”.
“Hernán really doesn’t fool around when it comes to exploring, does he”? Agustin raised the flag on the mast and Antonio was mopping the deck with a ripped washcloth.
“By what standards”? Antonio asked.
“I mean, look at this ship! Remember a couple of months ago, when we first looked at it. I mean, I knew Hernán was flashy, but I didn’t think he was this extravagant”! Agustin slid down the mast and grabbed a bucket from the corner of the ship.
“It is quite large. Unlike the bottom parts of the ship” Antonio agreed. Agustin paused to scratch a dark red spot on his arm.
“Are you sure you’re not getting sick? You’ve been getting more rashes ever since we set sail six months ago” Antonio asked.
“You kept track? How”? Agustin asked, avoiding the question. Antonio sighed.
“Agustin” he said plainly “I work with Hernán when we’re mapping or planning. I have to know these things”.
“Oh. When did he say we’d reach the New World”?
“Maybe noon. I’m not too sure on that”.
“What do you think we’ll see”?
“People? Possibly some new animals”.
“What do you think the cure will look like”?
“What’s with all the questions”? Antonio leveled him with a stern look. “You’ve been restless for the past few days Agustin. Don’t think I haven’t noticed you waking up in the middle of the night”.
“The bunks are just bad” Agustin defended. He straightened up and grimaced when a few bones in his back cracked. “Oh my aching back”! He groaned.
“How long has it been hurting”? Antonio asked.
“A couple of weeks. Not much-“. Agustin put his hand up as he began to cough, a hand moving to itch a rash on the side of his chest. His eyes opened to reveal a dull pain in them.
“You’re missing Dora, aren’t you”? Antonio asked. Agustin nodded.
“It hurts like hell to be so far away from her when she needs me the most. We’ve been gone for so long I wonder how she’s faring”.
“Or if she’s even alive” Antonio muttered.
“What did you say”?
“Nothing”! Agustin raised an eyebrow at Antonio, who began to whistle a tune as he mopped. Suddenly, he was all to happy with the job Hernán had given him.
Agustin looked at Antonio hesitantly. Sometimes, it was hard to tell how he would react to certain things. Once, while out shopping, Antonio had lashed out at a boy who’d spilled water on him by accident. It was not a pretty sight, considering Antonio’s intimidating height.
“Don’t you miss your family”? Antonio looked up from the deck and Agustin gulped. The stiffness in Antonio’s posture faded suddenly and he slumped over the mop.
“Every day” he murmured. “Every day I think about my family”. He gazed out to sea. The ocean glittered brightly in the sun and dolphins jumped in and out of the water. Their grey skin shimmered in the bright rays. Antonio set his mop against the railing and leaned on his elbows.
“I keep thinking how big my boys are now” he said “what are they doing? Are they doing well in school? And Eva. Is she talking yet? How much has she grown since I left? Will she remember her papa when he comes back? Will I even be able to see her again. Maria, is she well? Has she eaten? Fed the kids enough? Every day, my family has been the only thing on my mind”. Agustin leaned next to him, though it seemed that Antonio was talking himself rather than Agustin. He gazed at the salty sea, flashbacks of his family together playing like a movie in his head.
“I wish my family was like yours” Agustin murmured. Antonio blinked.
“What do you-“!
“Agustin! Antonio”! Hernán burst from the upper cabin of the boat, skipping with glee to the two men. Agustin mimicked him with his hands behind his back and Antonio hid a snicker behind a cough. Hernán glanced worridley at Antonio.
“Is everything alright? Are you sick”? He asked. Antonio brushed his concern aside with a wave of his hand. Agustin winced when he heard a few stitches pop.
“I am fine. How are you? Did something good just happen”? He asked.
“Yes. You seem to be in a good mood” Agustin added. Hernán nodded.
“I am. We will be reaching the New World soon” he said.
“When”? Agustin asked. Hernán gazed thoughtfully at the mast.
“By noon, probably” he said. Antonio shot a smug smile at Agustin, who ignored him.
“What will we do once we reach there”? Agustin asked. An evil glint came into Hernán’s eyes and it made Agustin realize just how much older Hernán was.
“Well...” he drawled “we will begin our march to the Aztecs, conquer them, then find this special cure for your sister”.
“It’s not that simple, is it”? Agustin asked. Hernán shrugged, stretching his arms above his head.
“I have no clue mi amigo. I am just as weary as you are of this travel, but we will be landing soon. I suggest you men go pack your guns and bags”. He clapped Antonio on the back and gave Agustin a short, curt nod before sauntering back to his cabin.
“Well, this is the final goodbye cabin”. Agustin wiped a fake tear away with his finger “You’ve been wonderful to us and we owe you a great debt, should we see you again-“.
“You done yet”? Antonio leaned against the frame of the door, raising an amused eyebrow in Agustin’s direction.
“Hey! Be polite to the hospitable cabin Hernán gave us”! Agustin scolded. Antonio snickered.
“Right”. He cast his eyes over the wooden crate of a cabin. Two beaten bunk beds were pressed against the back wall and a small bowl was placed next to it for a bathroom. There was a small tub for showering and a washcloth come time to clean their teeth. The wood by the door was splintering and it reminded Antonio very much of Agustin’s room in his house, which must be why Agustin was mourning.
“Quit whining Agustin”. Antonio dragged Agustin by the back of his bag “You have a pigsty like this back at home already”.
“Pigsty! What are you calling a-“! Agustin yanked himself free of Antonio’s grasp and ran up to where Hernán was standing on the deck. He smiled briefly at the two mens’ presence, turning back to the green patch of land sitting idly on the horizon.
“We’ve made it boys” he said, clapping an arm on each shoulder. Agustin was too in awe to even flinch at Hernán’s invasion of personal space. “Welcome to the New World”.