“This is the New World”? Agustin lay a disgusted eye on the dry patches of land by the horizon. From afar, you could see lush fields and bright colors of gold. Up close, however, it wasn’t nearly as beautiful as he had imagined it to be. Dry yellow stems of grass prodded the grass and dead trees made a glum forest near the sea. The sand was laden with broken shells and the carcasses of dead animals, staring deep into your soul. Their hollowed eye sockets seemed to zero in on the new tourists, as if aware of their true intentions.
“Yeah...I have to admit I’m kinda disappointed” Antonio said. His grip on his gun tightened and Agustin knew he was on high alert for any tribes. His own hand moved to his gun.
“There are no tribes here, so you needn’t worry” Hernán said, eyeing their movements. Antonio glared at him.
“I’d rather” he said. Hernán shrugged.
“You’re loss” he said. Antonio wrinkled his nose.
“Loss of what”? He muttered, but didn’t say anything.
“So...what’s the plan now”? Agustin asked. Hernán grinned crookedly. His greedy eyes scanned the horizon.
“First-” he reached inside his over-large satchel and pulled out the colorful Spanish flag. He stabbed the pointed tip into the thick part of the sand. The shore crashed behind them, as if disapproving their new piece of jewelry.
“-We claim this land for Spain”! Cheers roared behind Hernán and he smiled proudly, bowing his head at the applause. Agustin wrinkled his nose.
“Sure likes to be in the sunlight, doesn’t he”? He whispered to Antonio. Antonio nodded slowly. His dark eyes scanned the forest and his muscle flexed when he gripped his gun again.
“No. Just on guard”.
“Think Hernán tricked us”?
“Now what? We claimed this place for Spain. Now what to we do”? Hernán, overhearing them, grinned.
“We’ll set up camp now. Agustin, Antonio. Can you go scout collect some wood for fire”? Antonio grimaced.
“Now? Isn’t it a bit early for that”? He asked.
“Yeah. Tribes might still be around” Agustin added. He knew Antonio was trying to be cautious about the Natives, but quite frankly Hernán could care less. He waved his hand in an irritated dismissal.
“Nobody’ll be around for miles boys. You’ll be fine” he said. Antonio and Agustin glanced warily at each other, but shrugged and waded through the sharp grass stems into the woods. Agustin walked closer to a bush, inspecting its leaves.
“We’re supposed to be looking for wood, not leaves” Antonio pointed out. Agustin groaned.
“I’m not stupid. I know what Hernán said. However, I only came to the New World to find a cure for Dora, which is what I am looking for”.
“And you think that cure is going to be...crushed leave paste”?
“Precisely”. Antonio wrinkled his nose, but continued to search for wood, leaving Agustin to search for the ‘magic herbs’.
The woods were probably the only place where Agustin felt like he was home. The wind caressed his hair gently and softly shut his eyes. He sucked in the fresh air, feeling it flow down his throat like a cup of cold water. The leaved rustled and Agustin found himself knocked onto the ground, Antonio’s heavy body covering him. Agustin grunted.
“Get off me Antonio”! He pushed his calloused palms on Antonio’s rough shirt. Antonio didn’t budge. His wild eyes drunk their scene and his gun clicked.
“Stay low Agustin”! Antonio hissed. Agustin rolled his eyes and scowled, pushing once again on Antonio’s chest.
“Nothing is there Antonio! That was just the wind”! The best he could, Agustin gestured to the barren forests in front of them.
“See? Nothin-“! A flash of red and blue swiped at the corner and Agustin’s eye and Antonio snarled.
“What were you saying about nothing Agustin”? He asked darkly. Agustin chuckled sheepishly and his eyes narrowed into small slits. He looked so cat-like it almost made Antonio leap off him. Agustin reached for his pocket-knife, something Dora had given him for his twenty-fifth birthday.
“You think you can overpower natives with a knife”? Antonio’s gruff voice cracked with an almost quiet fear. He rolled off Agustin and stood with his legs apart. He looked like a wild tiger ready to pounce. His face formed a dark scowl and his eyes flashed wildy. At the next flash of color, he jumped, swiping his gun blindly. His hand pressed at his heart and winced.
Agustin’s dark eyes trailed the soft movements of the natives. He licked his dry lips and swiped his blade around. The tip gleamed in the blinding sun as he and Antonio moved back to back.
“See anything”? Agustin asked.
“Nothing yet, but stay on guard”. Antonio grunted and shifted his positon on his feet. He pushed a step foreward, stepping on a dry twig.
“Sh-” Antonio winced and Agustin whipped his head around when a brown and red blur brushed past him and into the bush behind Antonio. Agustin growled.
“What”? Antonio looked up, bewildered, when he suddenly frowned. The hairs on the back of his neck pricked and he stiffened, his posture going to ridgid anyone could easily mistake him for a statue.
“Don’t...move” Agustin hissed. He took cautious steps to Antonio, when a sharp hiss caught his attention.
“How many”? He asked. Antonio grit his teeth and softly clicked his gun.
“Maybe five? Probably boys” he said. The tension in the air was so thick that Agustin feared to make the next step. Neither side moved to fight, waiting for the other to make the first move. Agustin sighed.
“This is getting ridiculous”. He marched up to Antonio and threw his dagger into the bush. There was a piercing howl of agony.
And that’s when it started.
Four boys jumped out of the grass. They each were dark brown with shaggy black hair and red and blue body markings. Their brown eyes narrowed and the taller boy sneered at them. He nodded to the others, who began to form a circle around Antonio and Agustin.
“What do we do”? Agustin asked. He unsheathed another dagger from his belt and the tall boy stared at it. He bared his teeth.
“Wait...now”! Antonio fired a shot into the air and the boys jumped. Since Agustin had already taken one out with his dagger, that left an even number for each. Two per Spaniard.
“I got the big boy”! Antonio yelled. He lunged at the larger boy, tackling him to the ground. The one with golden marks on his cheeks pounced on Antonio’s back, clawing at it like a wild animal. Agustin glared at the remaining two. They seemed to be the wimpy ones in the group. They were skinny and ragged, and for a split second they reminded Agustin of when-
“Agustin! Fight”! Antonio’s commanding voice snapped Agustin out of his stupor and he lunged for one of the boys. The feathered boy was caught off guard and only narrowly missed Agustin’s dagger. It slit his cheek and the dark blood dripped onto the dirt.
“Yes”! Agustin cheered. He ripped the dagger from the bark it had impaled and struck over-confidently at the boy. This time, he was prepared. His jumped to the left and kicked Agustin in the stomach, which sent him flying into the boy Antonio was wrestling with. The boy yelped and Agustin heard a faint crack.
“Ooh...nailed him in the ribs”. Antonio wiped his hands and struck the other boy on the cheek. As plump as the other boy was, he sure knew how to fight. He ducked Antonio’s punch and scrambled for the gun, but Antonio was faster. He kicked it to Agustin’s feet, who flipped it in the air and tossed it back.
“Thanks”! Antonio’s gun clicked and he shot at the nearest tree next to the boy with the gold. The boy screamed and ran into the woods.
“He’s definitely not fit for war”. Agustin wiped a sheet of sweat and swiped at the other boy. He dived between Agustin’s feet and struck a rash. Agustin howled and dropped to the ground. He swung the dagger again and skimmed the boy’s stomach. The boy grimaced and clutched his side.
“One left”! Antonio cried triumphantly. Agustin grimaced and held his head as he turned. The world spun and his back ached. The bruises on his body had become much darker, probably from the blood spilling on his shoes.
“Agustin! Antonio”! Hernán’s worried voice cried from the trees. “Where are you”?
“Stay back”! Agustin snarled. Flashes of golds and reds swarmed his vision. His wet bangs hung over his eyes and his breathing became heavy.
“Hang in there Agustin”! Antonio called, but his voice sounded strangled. Loud, booming voices shouldered over Antonio’s and Agustin could hear the Spanish troops nearing the opening of the forest that they were in.
“Nobody move”! A fierce woman’s voice commanded from the trees.
“What stupid woman dares talk out of her place”? Hernán’s own voice growled. Agustin swayed on his knees and dropped his dagger. Antonio’s eyes widened.
“NO! Hang in there Agustin! Wait for-“. Antonio’s words died in his throat as the Spanish troops and the natives appeared-
Agustin tumbled to the ground.
“Ngh” Agustin groaned weakly and rolled on the cot. He scratched his head and turned again, only to fall with a thud to the dirt ground.
“God damn you”! Agustin shot up and glared at the ground. He threw the blanket that had been put on him to the side and struggled to stand. He raked a hand through his hair and smoothed his shirt over. Slipping on his boots and hat, Agustin stumbled out of the camp. Daylight had settled calmly on the shore as Agustin peered around the site for Antonio. He walked past the spluttering fire to where other soldiers were standing and cleaning weapons.
“Agustin”! One man, Mateo, called cheerfully to him “Come join us! We have been waiting for you to wake”.
“Where’s Antonio”? Agustin snapped.
“Antonio...“? Mateo asked. He handed Agustin a slice of bread, which Agustin begrudgingly bit into.
“What happened”? He asked. Mateo and the other men exchanged a couple of glanced. Agustin scowled at them.
“Well”? He asked, scratching a bruise on his arm. Mateo forced a piece of bread down his throat.
“You might want Antonio to tell you that” he said.
Agustin threw his hands up in expaturation, the bread flying and hitting another soldier’s helmet. “Then where the hell is he”?
“Who”? The deep rumble of Antonio’s voice caused Agustin to jump. Antonio raised an eyebrow at him and smirked.
“I didn’t know you being an early bird scared you” he teased. Agustin grumbled.
“Frick off” he muttered. Mateo smothered his laugh with his hand. Antonio scoffed.
“I thought you were looking for me”? Agustin cursed under his breath.
“Can you fill me in on what happened while I was out? How long was I out anyway”? He asked.
“You were out for~” Antonio paused to count on his fingers. A few of the men snickered and Agustin rolled his eyes. “-two days, max”. Antonio grabbed Agustin’s wrist and began to pull him to a large tan tent with the Spanish flag on top.
“Captain Narcissists tent? You bet”!
“...Wonderful”. Antonio pushed the flap to the tent aside and gestured for Agustin to follow him.
The tent was decorated in lavish silks and shiny threads of gold. Jewels hung on ropes above the ceiling of the tent and a large bed lay in the corner of the room. A pink, silk canopy covered the bed and next to that was a wooden desk spilling with scrolls and ink. Hernán sat by the desk, mumbling nonsense and writing furiously on scraps of parchment.
“How did all of this come here”? Agustin whispered. Antonio shut the flap and shrugged.
“I have absolutely no clue” he said. Hernán jumped in his seat.
“Ah! Agustin. Antonio. What brings you”? He asked. He pushed the chair aside and strode to Agustin, giving him a spacy hug. Antonio resisted the urge to chuckle at the face Agustin made. He looked like Dora when she first began throwing up.
“Are you feeling alright mi amigo”? Hernán clapped Agustin’s back and he coughed and spluttered on his spit, which didn’t go unnoticed by Antonio. He coughed into his palm, smothering his snickers. Agustin shot him a glare and he shrugged.
“I’m doing better, thanks”. Hernán let go of Agustin and he brushed himself off. “What happened to the Natives”?
“The Tlaxcala, you mean”? Hernán asked. Agustin cocked a confused eyebrow at Hernán but Antonio’s mouth dropped.
“We fought the Tlaxcala tribe”? He asked. Hernán nodded gravely.
“Yes. After Agustin’s...uh...” Hernán glanced uncertainly at Agustin, who glared daggers at him. “...bravery wore out on him, we fought the Tlaxcala until their leader appeared. We made peace with them after I explained our quest”. Hernán’s chest puffed with pride and Agustin sneered.
“You mean your quest” he huffed. Antonio jabbed him in the ribs and Agustin grunted, but didn’t say anything. Hernán admired himself in the mirror, straightening his hat and smoothing his silks.
“They gave us some valuable information on where the Aztecs are located. As well as-” Hernán pulled the canopy to his bed aside to reveal a young woman, maybe in her early twenties. She slept calmly, almost unsettlingly still. Her black hair was braided and strung with beads and she wore animal skin dresses with fringes. Hernán brushed the hair from her face and Agustin winced. It reminded him of Dora, sleeping peacefully as she battled the sickness deep inside her.
“Who is she”? Antonio asked. For the first time in knowing him, Hernán smiled warmly, almost genuinely.
“Her name is Malinche. She’ll be our new interpreter”. There was a slight possessive growl in Hernán’s voice and Agustin took a good step back.
“Meet the new mistress” Antonio murmured.
“You mean...he’s married”? Agustin asked, appalled. Antonio shrugged and nodded, grimacing when he saw Hernán lick his lips at her.
“Yes. To Diego’s sister, to make matters worse” he said.
“He’s really going to cheat on her”?
“Do you think he cares”?
“Exactly. Just like he used Diego’s sister, he’ll use her for his own political game”.
“In any case” Hernán coughed and stood from the bed. Agustin didn’t miss the way Hernán’s finger’s trailed the woman’s exposed leg. She twitched slightly, but didn’t move again. “Tomorrow we’ll be marching to Technochilitan, the Aztec capital. I have a meeting with the king, Montezuma 11".
“Did you find anything about the cure for Dora”? Agustin snapped impatiently. He looked into Hernán’s eyes, and for a split second he swore he saw panic rising in them, before he quickly masked it with confidence.
“Not yet, my friend. As I said, it is only in the Aztec’s reach” he said, his voice so sultry it made sense how Malinche could agree to bed with him. Agustin shivered at the thought.
“I hope you haven’t forgotten our deal Hernán” Antonio’s deep voice boomed. He took a step foreward and Hernán a step back. Agustin’s eyes narrowed where Hernán reached for his sword. His own hand moved to his dagger, but cursed when he realized he’d left it by his bedside table in his tent.
“I keep my promises, I assure you” Hernán snarled softly. His dark chocolate eyes grew into annoyed slits. “Prepare for the march tomorrow. We will meet with the Emperor and get this cure for your sister”. His promise didn’t meet his eyes, but Agustin knew when to pick a fight and when not to. His pulled Antonio away from the tent and back to the group of soldiers placing bets on the women of the Tlaxcala tribe.
“Back so soon? What’d Hernán tell you”? Mateo asked. Agustin grunted and plopped on the sand. He kicked his boots off and snatched a piece of bread, biting down angrily.
“That bad”? Mateo asked. Antonio sighed tiredly, slipping slowly into the seat next to Agustin.
“More...irritating, per say” he said. Agustin pushed the dry carbohydrate down his throat and spluttered, coughing violently. He itched his side violently and Antonio whacked his back.
“What the hell is wrong with you”? He asked. Agustin wiped his mouth and shrugged. He put his hand to his forehead, checking his temperature.
“You hot”? Antonio asked. He put his own hand to Agustin’s head, then wretched it back.
“Frick you’re burning up”! He exclaimed. Agustin laughed weakly.
“I’m fine! Just the heat from the sun, y’know”. Antonio looked skeptically at him, but said nothing. He gulped tiredly at his water.
“Did you hear that Hernán’s taken a mistress”? Mateo asked.
“Yeah. We just saw her. She’s a pretty little thing” Agustin sighed “Pity she ends up with a guy like Hernán”.
“He has a good tongue” Mateo said. He glanced up and down at Agustin, frowning. “Say, what brings you to the New World”? Agustin scowled.
“What do you mean”?
“You don’t seem like the type of guy to be in the army. You’re too scrawny and ratty” Mateo said. Agustin glared at him.
“Thanks” he muttered. “Whatever I’m doing here is none of your business”.
“If it helps, I’ll tell you mine” Mateo said, shrugging. “Wanderlust”.
“Isn’t it for all”? Agustin asked. Antonio patted his head.
“Not necessarily. Some fight because they’re forced to. Others out of pride for their country. Some for friends and family-” Antonio gulped and his eyes grew distant “Many for friends and family”. Mateo cleared his throat.
“Right” he coughed awkwardly. “Since we’ve all shared, it’s your turn”. Agustin looked up at him from a half-lidded gaze.
“I don’t give a damn about what you’re doing. It’s none of your business and you don’t have to worry about it”! He suddenly snapped, his anger and resentment at his family and Hernán renewed. “You’re not the one staying up 24/7 watching and comforting your little sister, are you? You’re not the one promising her she’ll make it through and that she’ll live when you know she won’t”! Agustin choked back a sob. Mateo raised his hands up in surrender, but Agustin wasn’t done yet. Even Antonio didn’t stop him. “You’re not the one salvaging whatever you can to not only feed your family, but your village also! You’re not the one suffering the horrible jabs and names while lamenting fate in the hot sun! You’re not the one fighting for your life on the crappy voyage to the New World to find a cure for your sister so you can see her beautiful, smiling face again”. Agustin put his head in his hands, his body racking with sobs that he forced inside. “My beautiful little sister. My beautiful Dora” he murmured, over and over again. The other men pressed their hats to their chests and looked away, either in pity, guilt, or sorrow. Mateo bent his head bashfully.
“I am sorry I pushed you Agustin. I did not mean for you to reveal something so personal” he said. Agustin grunted gruffly and sniffled.
“Do not worry. At least you are not a fool, like me” he said. Mateo opened his mouth to reply, but was cut off by a loud horn. The men turned to Hernán’s tent, where the God himself appeared, Malinche at his side.
“Men, tomorrow we venture out and claim the Aztec Empire for Spain with our own to hands. We have trained hard for this and with all your hard work lately, I cannot begin to express how proud I am with you”. The words rolled off Hernán’s tongue like honey and Agustin flinched. He hated it. Absolutely hated it. Even Malinche, a seemingly smart girl, got suckered by Hernán’s words. “I know this voyage has been hard on some people” Hernán locked eyes with Agustin, who shuffled nervously on his feet and itched a growing bump on his hand “but I respect your bravery to continue on! You shall be rewarded well enough soon, my men”! Hernán raised the Spanish flag up in the air.
“Long live Spain”! He yelled. The troops all roared with him, except for Agustin. He clutched the dagger Dora had given him long three years ago. He whispered softly, so no one heard him.
“Long live my love for you, Dora”.