The Conquistador

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Chapter 8

“Damn you Hernán’! Agustin banged on the cell walls. “Damn you”! He hit them again, then cursed and pulled his hand away, rocking it gently. The skin around it was red and peeling and new bumps began to fill in the places of old scabs.

“He’s not here Agustin” Antonio said tiredly. “He won’t let us out”. The large man had resigned himself to a small corner of the cell, close to where Montezuma sat peacefully.

“But we have to try”! Agustin said desperately “We can’t give up! I-I can’t give up”! His voice ended in a hoarse whisper and he sunk to the ground, rubbing his arm. Antonio sighed and walked over to him. The dirt and soot slid as he took a seat next to Agustin.

“I’m sorry Agustin” he said. Agustin scoffed.

“Sorry won’t do anything” he said. “And besides, I should be the one saying sorry”.

“What? Why”?

“You were right. This whole trip I was just thinking about myself-well-I was thinking about Dora, that I didn’t take your thoughts and feelings in consideration. I-I was just like Diego”.

“Don’t beat yourself up for it” Antonio said. “You were doing it for a good cause. You love her Agustin. She’s your sister. You’d do anything for her and your emotions were understandable”.

“Yelling at you wasn’t”.

“Yelling will never solve anything”. For the first time since they’d been thrown in the cell, Montezuma quietly spoke from his corner. His calm eyes were trained gently on Agustin’s anguished face.

“What do you mean”?

“We all love people. Some more than others” Montezuma began “But sometimes love is put to its test and it doesn’t always pass. We should not judge the people who fail, rather encourage them to try again”.

“Is he talking about me or Hernán because I’m a bit confused”? Agustin whispered. Montezuma chuckled and hobbled to his feet.

“I am talking about the both of you” he said, chuckling again. Agustin flushed.

“I’m sorry”.

“Do not worry” Montezuma waved the disrespect aside “The sun god has always been known to have a large pride. If my demise changes his heart, then so be it”.

“You’re willing to die for...him”? Antonio asked, repulsed. Montezuma shrugged.

“We must all die for the right things”. He knelt next to Agustin. “You love your sister very much, do you not”?

“How...do you know”? Agustin asked. Montezuma laughed.

“Child, I hear much while languishing in this room” he said. His voice softened again. “And I have heard about you and your sister. May the gods be with her”.

“I doubt it” Agustin grumbled “We’ve had bad luck ever since we were born”.

“Oh? Would it be alright if I offered my...suggestions”?

“You don’t even know the whole story”.

“Then what happend”?

“What?! Why would I tell you-“! But when Agustin looked into Montezumas’ eyes, he didn’t see judgment or pity. In fact, he couldn’t see anything but plain observance.

“Well...” Agustin squirmed in his seat “I was born to a rich family. My father worked for the king and had a vast knowledge as did my mother. I had a good life, until I was three...“. He looked to Montezuma, to see if his expression changed, but it was still that same, calm, observance.

“What happened at three”? Montezuma asked calmly. Agustin sighed.

“When I was three, Dora was born”. Agustin sighed “One of my most cherished memories. And also only me”.

“What do you mean”? Antonio asked.

“After Dora’s birth my mother got sick. Then, she and my father began to fight. Their fights started out as verbal, but soon they got physical. My father refused to take my mother to the doctor unless she obeyed his every word like a loyal wife” Agustin spat “It was disgusting”!

“How old were you”? Antonio asked.

“I was ten and Dora was seven. My father, whenever my mother wasn’t around for him to abuse, took his anger out on us. Mostly Dora, since she was the girl. He trained her to respect all men and only obey them. When she retaliated, he beat her” Agustin wiped at his eyes “Our mother always supported us. No matter how tired she was. But soon-“!

“Soon”? Montezuma asked gently. Agustin took a deep breath.

“Soon, she died. Or, to be specific, she killed herself”.

“What!? How”? Antonio exclaimed. Agustin sighed.

“She hanged herself. Said she couldn’t deal with my father anymore and wanted to leave this world” Agustin gulped “She left us. I’ll never forgive her for that, or for the way my father treated us after. He thought we were the reason she killed herself and began taking all his anger out on us. Slowly, he also began to get poorer from buying wine and going to the cat house. Each and every night it was a new lady. I hated it”! Agustin threw his head back and bumped it mercilessly against the stone.

“Then what”? Antonio asked, intrigued.

“One night, after my father’s night in the largest cat house in the city, I packed my things and Dora’s things, picked her up, and ran away”.

“Really? That’s it”?

“Yep. We went to the slums where I learned to be a pick-pocket.It wasn’t an easy transition, but we worked on it. I-I worked on making life better for us. That is, until we met Daniel”

“Daniel”? Montezuma asked questioningly. Agustin laughed bitterly.

“He was my age and probably one of the most handsomest boys in the slums. He was also the biggest play-boy a man’s ever seen”!

“Oh...I know where this is going” Antonio gulped. Agustin nodded.

“Yeah. Dora fell in love with him”. He heard Montezuma suck a large, quiet breath. “Yes. She did. I don’t know what he wanted form her, but after a few nights of her sleeping with him, she got sick”.

“Sick”? Montezuma asked. Agustin nodded.

“Yes. Really sick. Once Daniel found out, he left her immediately. Left her to the dogs. He’d promised her so much. So much and he never really meant to do them”.

“Just like Hernán” Antonio murmured. “I should’ve known”.

“And now just like me. I failed my sister. The antidote for her sickness is in Hernán’s reach now. Nothing can stop him from wasting it” Agustin mourned. Montezuma cocked an eyebrow.

“What sickness”?

“Smallpox. Hernán said you’d have and antidote here...“? Montezuma shook his head sadly.

“I’m sorry child” he said “but we have never even heard of smallpox! Much less have a cure for it”! Agustin and Antonio stared at him, jaws slack with disbelief. After a while, Agustin spoke.

“R-Really? I-I came all this way, away from my home, searching for a cure for my sick almost dead sister, only to find it doesn’t exist”! He laughed shakily, turned around, and bashed his head on the stone.

“Agustin”! Antonio grabbed him and shook him by the shoulders. Agustin struggled.

“Let me die! Let me kill myself here! I was tricked! We were tricked! We left our loved ones when they needed us”! Agustin whet slack in Antonio’s grip. “When she needed me”.

“Agustin listen” Antonio said firmly. “Killing yourself is going to get us nowhere. Especially if Dora is still alive, she’d want to see you alive too before she dies”. Agustin, tired of fighting his emotions, nodded helplessly.

“Which means...“?

“Which means we have to find a way out” Antonio said resoutly. n

“Yeah, but how”? Agustin asked, rubbing at his incredibly warm head. On his palm, red wetness soaked the cracked skin.

“I...don’t know” Antonio murmured. He looked around the cell. The palace, for all it’s riches and glory, had nothing but dark stone and ash in their cells. A small slab by the barred window served as a bed and a hole in ground a toilet.

“We could try digging from the toilet”? Antonio suggested. Agustin wrinkled his nose and coughed.

“And get dirty? No thank you! Especially when who knows who did their business in that thing”!

“Then do you have a better idea”?

“Perhaps I do”. Agustin and Antonio turned to the bars keeping them away from their freedom. Behind them stood Mateo. He wore a bloodied shirt and ripped pants. His satchel had a large hole it it as did his head, which was wrapped by a poorly set-up wound.

“Mateo”! Agustin exclaimed. Mateo smiled wryly and dangled the keys.

“Need a way out”? He asked. Antonio heaved a sigh of relief and Montezuma remained silent.

“Oh gods yes! Can you help Mateo”? He asked. Mateo nodded his head and put a dusty finger to his chapped lips.

“I will, but we have to be quick and quiet! If Hernán finds out we’ll all be hanged” he whispered. The two men nodded and Mateo fumbled with the keys.

“At the end of the hall you’ll see a large brown door. That leads to the desert we came from. Some ways up north is the forest and stream. If we’re lucky, the boat’s probably still there”. He unlocked the door and quietly pushed the cell door open.

“What about you”? Agustin asked, jumping up to his feet. He rubbed his arm and back, limping out of the cell. Mateo and Antonio exchanged worried looks, but said nothing

“What about me”? Mateo asked.

“Are you coming with us”? Mateo looked away, biting his lip.

“What”?

“Agustin” he began “I-I’d like to stay. Even with Hernán here, he’ll get what’s coming for him soon”. He laid steady hands on Agustin’s shoulders to keep him from swaying. “I’ve craved for adventure my whole life and I just got it handed on a silver platter. I’m not about to let this plate pass to the next guest, if you catch my drift...”

“So, you’re staying”? Agustin asked. Mateo nodded. Agustin took a shaky breath.

“Okay”. He patted Mateo’s shoulders. “Good luck”. Mateo nodded, shaking his shoulder gently.

“You as well” he glanced at the door leading upstairs to the throne room “You’ll need it”. He exchanged a a handshake with Antonio before disappearing up the stairs. Antonio’s heavy sigh broke the silence.

“We’d better get going Agustin” he said. He glanced at Montezuma, who laid peacefully on the stone slab. He stared calmly at the two men, watching them for their next move. “I think His highness has made his decision”. Agustin looked at Montezuma, who nodded sadly at him. Agustin clenched his jaw and straightened up.

“Let’s go”.

*****

“Who knew the desert would be so hot in the afternoon”? Agustin commented. He pushed past the rough, slapping wind to keep pace with Antonio. Antonio turned back and gave him a look.

“What”?

“Agustin. It’s midday! Of course it’ll be hot! The sun is at its peak”!

“So”?

“So...never mind”! Antonio huffed an squinted at the whirlwind of sand blowing in his direction.

“Where’s the forest”? Agustin asked. He leaned down to scratch a bump on his leg and Antonio resisted the urge to gag. His wounds were getting uglier and uglier by the day!

“Upcoming”! Antonio said, pointing to the familiar clump of trees by the horizon. He made a break for it, taking off in a full sprint.

“HEY! Wait up”! Agustin struggled to match his pace with Antonio. The older man’s legs carried him like a cheetah, sprinting down the dunes to the rocky and familiar patches of grass and bush. His muscles flexed as he waited for Agustin to catch up.

Agustin was gasping for breath by the time he reached Antonio. He dropped at Antonio’s feet, clutching his chest dramatically.

“Help me! I’m dying”! He proclaimed. Antonio stepped over him, sauntering into the lush forest ahead.

“C’mon lazy bones. Maybe we can stock up on some fruit before we leave” he said. Agustin groaned. He hefted himself up from the ground again and tripped to follow Antonio, who explored the forest in a daze.

“Is this edible”? Agustin poked at some green berries. Antonio glanced behind his shoulder and flinched.

“No” he said shortly. Agustin, who was just about to eat said fruit, grimaced and flung it to the ground.

“That doesn’t mean you throw that Agustin” Antonio chastised gently. Agustin rolled his eyes.

“You’re not my mother” he grumbled. Antonio ignored him.

“Look”! After collecting armloads of fruit (Which for Antonio, was a lot), Antonio and Agustin trekked to the beach, where a new boat was docking itself in the spacious water.

“What is that”? Agustin asked. Antonio squinted at the boat, then suddenly dropped his armload of fruits.

“My babies”! Agustin gasped. Antonio shushed him.

“What”? Agustin snapped.

“Those are Diego’s soldiers”! Antonio hissed. Agustin went pale and stiffened.

“Will they hurt us”?

“I don’t know. Let’s see”. The men on the ship began filing out in an orderly fashion. They all carried guns loaded with bullets and their daggers were sharper that Agustin’s. The younger boys in the back carried the large red and yellow Spanish flag.

“Crud” Antonio cursed. Agustin looked up at him.

“What? Are they the King’s soldiers”? He asked. Antonio shook his head and cursed again.

“No. Worse”.

“Hernán’s”?

“No! Wait...what”? Antonio looked at Agustin, who shrugged.

“Hey, if we’re gonna die, might as well make a joke out of it” he said. Antonio rolled his eyes and turned back at the troops again.

“No! Those are Diego’s soldiers”! He said.

“Oh...” Agustin hummed. “What are they doing here for”?

“My guess, probably send Hernán to jail for defying Diego’s orders”.

“Sweet”!

“...Agustin”.

“Right right! Sorry”. Antonio looked around as the men neared.

“Well, this is a good opportunity for payback” Agustin said.

“What? What are you doing?! Stay down”! But it was too late. Agustin had gotten up from the bush they were hiding in and began to walk towards the troops.

“That boy is crazy”! Antonio muttered, tripping to chase after him.

“Excuse me”! Agustin called out. The general leading the troops halted and turned to him as Antonio reached. Agustin resisted the urge to wince. The guy must’ve suffered a big blow to the face. He had a dark red gash covering his left eye and scratches right below on his cheek.

“Who are you”? The General asked. His eyes wandered past Agustin to Antonio, and they widened with recognition.

“Antonio”? He asked. Antonio ducked his head and nodded.

“General Estrada. Good to see you”? Antonio said sheepishly. The General smiled and nodded to him, clapping him roughly on the back.

“And you as well my boy. How are you? How is your family”?

“They’re doing-“.

“Ahem”. Agustin coughed, glaring at Antonio.

“Oh! General, this is Agustin, my friend”. General Estrada nodded to Agustin, his nose wrinkling slightly.

“I know I look like crap, You don’t have to make a big deal of it” Agustin said. Antonio slapped his forehead and the soldiers shuffled nervously, but General Estrada laughed loudly.

“Nice friend you got here” he said, shaking Agustin’s shoulder roughly. Agustin smirked at Antonio, who gaped widely at him, as did the other soldiers. “I like a man who speaks his mind”.

“Yes sir” Antonio mumbled. General Estrada laughed.

“Now then, what are you boys doing here”? He asked.

“What are you doing here”? Agustin retorted.

“Governor Velázquez sent us for Hernán. He needs to pay up for his trails. You”? Agustin opened his mouth to respond, but a cough came out of his mouth instead. He pushed the air up furiously, coughing as if he was choking.

“Ah, my back” he moaned softly before straightening.

“Are you alright”? General Estrada and Antonio asked simultaneously. Agustin nodded.

“Yes”. He swallowed “We were tricked by Hernán into coming here. My sister is sick, you see, and he promised us of a cure in the New World”! Agustin clenched his fists to his side “He only needed us to do his genocide work. He drove me mad”!

“Same old Hernán” General Estrada muttered. He laid a hand on Agustin’s trembling shoulder. “I am sorry. How long have you been away from your sister...“.

“Dora” Agustin filled “And I don’t know. Perhaps a few months? Maybe six”?

“Tell you what” General Estrada turned to look back at his ship, which danced slowly on the rocking sea. “You tell us where Hernán is, and I’ll let you have my ship”.

“Really”? Agustin asked. General Estrada nodded.

“Yes. I have wanted to settle in the New World anyway. Do we have a deal”? Agustin looked at Antonio, who, after slight hesitation, nodded.

“Deal”.

*****

“This ship is nice eh”? Agustin ran his hand gently over the wheel of the large boat. He dusted the soot off the peg and rolled it gently.

“Don’t do that”! Antonio scrambled to the upper deck and twisted the wheel back to pointing north.

“Why? That was fun”! Agustin whined. Antonio snorted.

“Are you full of seasalt already? We’re on the home stretch and you’re taking us down to Africa”! He said. Agustin lit up.

“Are we really”? He asked.

“See for yourself”. Antonio led Agustin down the deck and by the Captain’s cabin. The beaches of Spain glowed on the damp horizon. Agustin’s breath caught in his throat.

“I can’t believe it” he murmured. He then began jumping up and down on the ship. “We did it! We made it”! Antonio laughed with him.

“That we did mi amigo” he said. “We’ll have you with Dora in no time”.

“Dora” Agustin murmured. “Is she okay? Do you...she’ll still be alive, right? She’ll still be okay”?

“I don’t know” Antonio murmured “But what I do know is that we’d better pick the pace up. It looks like a storm’s coming”. Agustin looked above his head where dark clouds had begun to drift above the small city. Thunder boomed and lightning crackled above their heads.

“Yeah, let’s hurry”! Agustin and Antonio helped the ship pick up pace, setting the sails sideways so the wind pushed it harder. By noon they were docking at the harbor, where crowds of people came to greet them.

“What is the New World like”? A lady asked.

“Is there gold”? Another man eagerly inquired.

“Are their bad people”? A young boy questioned. Agustin tried answering each of the questions, Antonio watching quietly from behind him, but soon a dark, shrouded figure with a bird mask and large goggled pushed themselves through the crowd.

“Agustin! Antonio”! Doctor Lopez cried. The crowd behind him were the people from the slums. Agustin’s heart dropped. They looked worse for wear in the six months that he was gone. Clothes were ripped and bodies skinny with malnutrition. Agustin scanned the crowd eagerly for Dora, slumping slightly when he didn’t find her.

Doctor Lopez frowned at Agustin’s state. He had rashes and pink bumps all over his body. His spine was hunched and he continuously coughed and hacked up blood.

“How long has this been going on”? He asked Antonio as they led Agustin back to the slums. Antonio looked up at the darkening sky as he thought.

“Hmm...maybe six-no-seven months? I’m not sure” he said. Doctor Lopez nodded.

“And has he ever held his sister or touched her while she had the disease”? He asked. Antonio frowned, then paled, He shook his head over and over, mumbling to himself.

“You don’t mean...No! I refuse to believe that”! He cried. Doctor Lopez nodded sadly.

“I am sorry Antonio. And Dora...” he swallowed hard and looked away. Antonio felt a pit of dread stir up in his stomach and he looked up at Agustin, who was chatting with a group of slum boys. That pit only grew bigger as they neared the arch marking the slums. Even the group grew somber, refusing to meet Agustin’s eyes as he sauntered down the path to his house, looking as giddy as ever.

“Antonio...” Doctor Lopez nudged Antonio and jerked his head to Agustin. If the news wasn’t so bad Antonio would’ve laughed his head off at the ridiculous mask. Instead he nodded quietly and pushed his way up to the front, his shadow looming over the doorway as Agustin entered his house.

“Dora! Dora, I’m back! Where are you Dora”?! Agustin playfully looked around the house, stopping short when he saw the drenched, empty bed where Dora once slept.

“Dora”? Now his voice grew quiet, scared. The slums people grew quiet, making a pathway out of the house for him.

“Agustin-“! Antonio tried reaching for him, but Agustin shrugged him off. He coughed and scratched furiously before hiccuping a sob.

“NO! He cried. He looked furiously around the room, searching for something he knew deep down he’d never find. Soft rain poured outside the house and thunder rumbled quiet apologies to the air but Agustin didn’t care. He ran out of the house, his eyes closed and wiping away tears as the streamed down his cheek. The group followed him, leading him surreptitiously down to the graveyard, down to a small, specific grave.

“..What”? Agustin trembled as he knelt down to touch the cool stone, sending sparks down his hot skin. He traced the name and dates inscribed on the stone. Tears fell hot down his cheek and watered the dirt burying the stone. His hand trembled violently and he hacked harder coughs.

In Loving Memory of

Dora Vasquez

1497-1522

Loving Daughter, Sister, Friend

R.I.P

“NO”! Agustin screamed. He thrashed against the stone, clawing at it and trying to dig her out. He screamed again and bashed against the ground. He trembled and shook, his body vibrating violently. The slum people didn’t try to stop him. They held their hats to their chests and looked down as the rain began to pour harder. Thunder boomed and lightning shot across the sky.

“No” Agustin whimpered. “No...please Dora, no”. He caressed the tone gently, tracing the words over and over again, trying to digest this new piece of information.

“When”? Antonio murmured softly, trying not to let his tears show, though his eyes shined. Doctor Lopez shook his head sadly.

“The morning of your departure” he said. “I went to check on her after Agustin asked me to, and-” his voice cracked “She died in her sleep that morning”.

“Oh gods Agustin! Oh gods”! Antonio repeated over and over again “When he’d said she was sleeping...“. Doctor Lopez nodded sadly.

“Poor Agustin” he murmured. Suddenly, a cry rose from Agustin. He shook on his feet, struggling to stand. His breathing became ragged and he clawed at his chest. His eyes widened animalistically and rolled to the back of his head.

“Agustin”! Antonio leapt to catch him, but he was too late. Agustin swayed gently, eyes closing and breathing slowing gradually as he fell to the ground-

-and stilled.

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