The searing heat pushed tirelessly on the Spanish troops as they trekked through the vast plains of emptiness. The sun roared with pleasure and sunk its heat into the sweaty soldiers, frying them mercilessly. Hot sand and grass pricked at the worn shoes and gashes from the war with the Tlaxcala tribe. The Natives trotted behind the Spanish, tired, but not as much as the troops were. The horizon seemed to be moving further and further away with each tree they passed and soon, Agustin began to daydream.
He lagged behind the last of the troops, where Antonio was. He pulled at his belt and satchel pouch. A Native grunted behind him and he flinched. The sharp, grass blades swiped at his skin, cutting the small bumps he’d acquired throughout time.
“What’s up”? Antonio asked. He surveyed the back of the soldiers with a tired eye.
“Just bored. How much longer until we reach the Capital”? Agustin whined. Antonio snorted softly.
“How am I supposed to know”? He sighed, clicking his gun softly. “Perhaps some day people will invent something that is able to track where we are. Like...a world tracking...thing”.
“Ppft” Agustin snorted. “Yeah right. That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard in my life”. Antonio scowled and hit Agustin gently with the butt of his gun.
“One day Agustin. Mark my words” he snarled. Agustin waved his hand.
“Yeah yeah. One day...“. He squinted up at the sun, flinching at the blinding light it glared back at him
“How much longer till we reach the Capital”? He asked. Antonio sighed
“You just asked me that”.
“Oh...sorry”. Agustin smiled sheepishly and fiddled with his satchel. Antonio frowned
“Are you alright? You haven’t been this fidgety in-” he paused, counting on his fingers “-ten years. Is something wrong? Did Hernán say something to you”?
“What could that cabron ever say that would make me this antsy”? Agustin took a deep breath and lay a hand gently on his dagger. Antonio sucked in a harsh breath.
“You’re thinking about Dora, aren’t you”?
“When am I not”? Agustin snorted, trying to lighten the mood, but Antonio was having none of it. He lay a hand on Agustin’s shoulder, steadying him as he swayed slightly.
“It’s alright to talk to friends sometimes, you know. That helps” he said. Agustin grunted and shrugged Antonio’s hand off.
“I’m fine”! He snapped. He closed his eyes and gripped the dagger tightly. A Native shuffled behind them and when Antonio looked back, he saw all the Natives had taken a good step away from Agustin.
“Huh. Maybe they know you need space” he murmured. Agustin scoffed.
“Or their repulsed by my behavior” he snarked.
“Sometimes I wonder if you are a baby in disguise” Antonio grumbled.
“It’s true! All you ever do is whine and complain”! Antonio smirked “And now cry”. Agustin opened his mouth to respond, but closed it and looked down ashamedly. His hair had grown longer, now that Antonio got a good look at it. Shaggy and untamed, just like his behavior. A small stubble was beginning to grow on his cheeks and his eyes lost their shining lust for adventure. Now, they were bland, cold, and dead set on one task.
“Yeah” he whispered “I have been a big crybaby”. Antonio clenched his jaw and looked out into the vast distance of the dunes. The dry, soft mountains whispered aimlessly into the wind, some of their conversation slapping the soldiers in their cheeks and slipping into their mouths. The sky was clear and blue, the sun smiling wide at them.
“I’m sorry. That was insensitive” Antonio apologized. Agustin shook the apology off.
“What does it matter? Dora’s probably dead by now” he said. His voice shook and was rough but cracked, and Antonio realized he was fighting his tears again.
“Don’t think like that Agustin! We still have hope”!
“Oh yeah? What”?
“Well...we have Hernán”.
“Yeah. He’s helping us, isn’t he”?
“How? All he’s done is bring us to an unknown land and risk our lives several times. He’s never once tried to sound helpful and all he’s done is for his own personal gain”!
“...True. But we’re not at the Aztec capital yet. Maybe Hernán just likes dramatics and is saving the best for last”?
“Eh...nah”. Antonio deflated, his muscled chest pulling the strings of his shirt taunt.
“I’m trying to help you feel better y’know” he said. His eyes flashed to Agustin, who turned stubbornly away from him.
“That’s what you call trying? You’re just making me feel worse”! He said.
“Well at least I’m trying! You didn’t once think about how much I miss my family too”!
“You think you’re the only one important here”! Antonio’s voice rose and he glared at Agustin. “You’re just like Hernán”! Agustin’s mouth dropped. His eyes widened and he took a step back.
“W-What”? He asked. Pure shock dripped from his words as he stared at Antonio. His heart burned and beat rapidly. “Why”?
“All you care about is yourself! You didn’t think once about what the other soldiers at the camp were going through! You’re narcissistic”! As soon as he said it, regret flashed through Antonio’s face. His eyes widened and he almost dropped his gun. He looked away, refusing to meet the shell-shocked eyes of Agustin.
Behind them, the Natives were slowly taking steps back. Murmurs erupted through their crowd and a few of the Spanish soldiers looked over their shoulders at the men, who both refused to look at one another.
“Well-” Agustin finally spoke, calling Antonio’s eyes to him. “-if that’s how you felt about me, why didn’t you tell me”?
“Agustin, please! I didn’t mean-“!
“I’m pretty sure you did” Agustin’s voice rose an octave higher and he stared Antonio dead in the eye. His vision blurred from the tears he refused to let fall. He clenched his fists to his sides and one hand went to his dagger. Antonio stepped back.
“I thought you were my friend”! Agustin yelled “I can’t believe you’re acting like this”!
“Well I can’t believe you’re acting like a teenage girl”!
“Good, you’ll have practice”!
“Get out! Get away from me”!
“You as well”! Agustin practically fumed with anger as he stomped his way up the dusty sand to Hernán’s side. The explorer in question was talking amicably with Malinche, who laughed once or twice at something the handsome conquistador said. Agustin gagged loudly, distracting Hernán’s attention from his interpreter (cough: mistress) to Agustin.
“Agustin! There you are! What happened? I thought you were in the back with Antonio”? Hernán grinned crookedly and Agustin knew he’d heard the whole ordeal. He groaned and rubbed his face with his hands.
“I’d rather not talk about it” he snapped. Hernán shrugged.
“Whatever suits you, mi amigo” he said. Agustin glared at him.
“Must you keep calling me that? I have a name, y’know? I’d prefer you use that”.
“Oh, so I can’t call you my friend but Antonio can”?
“I said stop bringing that up”!
“What? It’s an hone-“!
“Gentlemen” Malinche’s voice interrupted the both of them, and their heads whipped simultaneously to her.
“What”?! They chorused. Malinche giggled softly. Her eyes glowed gently and her long hair sifted in the wind, like a princess. She pointed a dainty finger at the horizon, where the outline of gold could be seen. Even with the naked eye, the Aztec flag stood proudly atop the tallest building at the village.
“That is the capital, Tenochtitlan. It is home to the King Montezuma. He is expecting you, yes”? She asked. Hernán nodded.
“Yes. Excellent work my dear” he said. Malinche cocked an eyebrow, confused at his term of endearment, but nodded nonetheless. She bowed slightly and retreated back into her own corner, gazing longingly at the empty dunes.
“She’s really quiet, isn’t she”? Agustin asked. Hernán nodded.
“Yes, quite. I like her” he said.
“What about your other wife”?
“Hm? Oh, you mean Catalina? What about her”?
“...Don’t you love her”?
“No. I only married her for a status and my political gain. I do not love her”. Agustin almost tripped at how bland and monotone he sounded. He really didn’t care about anyone but himself.
“Yes. Same reason”.
“That’s life Agustin” Hernán patted his shoulder and squeezed it “It’s cruel and never fair”.
“Still, she’s Diego’s sister, isn’t she”?
“I don’t give a damn about Diego anymore. Maybe we were friends once, but that all changed after he denied me my right to this quest”. Hernán’s jaw tightened and Agustin glanced at Malinche. She seemed so carefree and lost in her own world that Agustin felt sorry for her.
“Yes. Just so he wouldn’t be usurped” Hernán scoffed “Well look who’s where on the food chain now Diego”!
“Does Montezuma have the cure for smallpox”? Agustin briskly cut in. Hernán missed his footing for a second before he caught himself, Agustin raising a confused eyebrow in his direction.
“Ah, yes. I am sure he has the antidote. Trust me” Hernán patted Agustin again, but something deep in Agustin’s chest told him not to.
“...I’ll try” he said warily. Hernán nodded.
“That is all I ask” he said. He glanced to the back of the crowd and Agustin followed his gaze, where he met Antonio’s dark eyes. They shared a look before turning away, each having too big of a pride to talk.
“I suggest you go and talk to him. You are good friends and a friendship like that should remain that way” Hernán said. His voice had gone quiet, like he was thinking of something far away while talking.
“Maybe if I had said something. Or maybe if I’d talked to him alone. Maybe-maybe we would’ve still had something”. Hernán’s voice was so quiet Agustin had to lean to hear him. It was rare to see Hernán so vulnerable before.
Something hit Malinche’s foot and she looked up from the ground. Her eyes widened and she reached furiously for Hernán ’s sleeve. He turned quickly to her.
“What? What is i-Holy God”! Hernán gasped at the sprawling city in front of them. Agustin clicked his tongue and the troops behind him cheered. They raised their guns and spears up and roared in happiness. The sun suddenly seemed smaller now. The heat burning in their backs useless to dissipate the triumph heating in their chests.
“We did it Agustin”! Hernán clapped Agustin’s back and for once, Agustin didn’t care that he was touching him. He was too in awe of the luscious city in front of him. Sprawling temples with grey and green moss touched the bright blue sky. Clamoring crowds and flags with inviting colors decorated the vast streets.
“We did it” Agustin whispered in awe. He raised his dagger with a hiss and held it high in the air. “We made it! Aztecs, here we come”!