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Beast of the Bells [MultiFormat]
eBook by T. K. Sheils

eBook Category: Mystery/Crime/Fantasy
eBook Description: A dark, erotic historical murder mystery set in 1539. The story is told through the eyes of Rodrigo Aquilino, secretary to the Viceroy, Don Antonio de Mendoza. His mission is twofold. He must find the gold of the fabled Seven Cities of Antilla and discover the real story of the death of Estevanico who was the guide and in fact led the last expedition. Estevanico ... the black man was larger than life. One of his many admirers describes him as "tall, built like an Arabian stallion? sleek, glossy lithely muscled. He had a smile that would charm a lioness, eyes that swallowed your soul." He wore his hair in long braids with dozens of copper bells woven in them" Of voracious sexual appetites, he was apparently irresistible to women and traveled with a harem of at least six young women. Tremendously charismatic, he made friends and allies wherever he went; however, the clergy hated him and his habit of wearing copper bells on his person led many of the natives to fear that he was the Last Beast ... the horrific destroyer, the Beast of the Bells. Rodrigo's innocence dissipates as he uncovers lies, torture, murder, even massacre in his quest for the truth. He is taught erotic pleasures by one of Estevanico's lovers and ultimately finds himself capable of loving and of killing.

eBook Publisher: Mundania Press LLC/Mundania Press LLC, Published: 2006, 2006
Fictionwise Release Date: November 2006


6 Reader Ratings:
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Chapter One

A Meeting

"Tell me what you have heard about the Seven Cities of Antilia." Don Anotonio de Mendoza addressed the short square Captain seated at the far end of the great carved mahogany table.

It was apparently an innocuous question that should have reduced the almost palpable tension in the large, gloomy high-ceilinged room but, for some reason, it did not. Perhaps that feeling was aided by the lighting, for Captain Melchior Diaz sat in a shaft of bright sun, his white hair gleaming in the heat and his weather beaten face wet with perspiration, while the two others, Viceroy Mendoza and his new secretary, Rodrigo Aquilino sat in the cooler shadows, the younger man across the corner to the Viceroy's right. Thus, while the meeting had been described as a simple debriefing of a recent expedition, the mood was more one of an inquisition.

Perhaps the reason lay in the contrast between the scruffy, sweat-and-gravy-stained blue and gold jacket of the Captain, and the pure white ruffed collar and the perfect fit of the royal purple jacket of the Viceroy.

And, certainly, the feeling of anxiety could be traced to the fact that two of the three men really didn't know why they were there.

The Captain had worried all morning as to why an inconspicuous officer, with a far from auspicious record, should be summoned to appear before the Viceroy of New Spain, though he suspected it was to be reprimanded for something or other. The question about the Seven Cities had therefore come as a complete surprise and now, he was beginning to suspect, it was a test of some sort and he wasn't at all sure how to pass it.

The darkly-handsome Rodrigo Aquilino, sitting in the shadows beside Mendoza, also had reason to wonder about his presence. Two months ago, he had been just a lowly copy-scribe in the court of King Carlos in Madrid. So what had led Mendoza to bring him to Mexico City and out of his social element, as, of all things, his new personal secretary? Surely Rodrigo's small part in the Atatlán affair couldn't have reached the Viceroy's ears already. But Mendoza had indicated this morning's meetings would answer a number of Rodrigo's questions and, thus, he was as surprised as Diaz at the opening question about what were nothing more than dreams and fantasies.

Of the three then, only the Viceroy exuded ease and confidence through his body language and the smoothness of his voice, as he broke the awkward silence with a comforting,

"Come now, Captain, we have fought too many times side-by-side for us not to be candid with each other."

And with that, Diaz spoke at last, wiping his cracked forehead with a grimy handkerchief.

"I have heard it told..." he said slowly, "that when the heathen Moors of Africa invaded the Iberian peninsula, a group of oppressed Christians, led by seven Bishops, sailed westward into the mysterious Ocean Sea, as they called it. There they found an incredibly beautiful island which they named Antilia. Then each of the Bishops founded a city and the island was developed into a paradise, fabulously rich in gold and jewels, with markets full of ripe fruit and cellars full of fine wines. But the whereabouts of Antilia was never made known back in Spain, and, soon, the cities were lost to mankind."

"Do you believe the story?" Mendoza asked bluntly.

"I ... I..." Captain Diaz stammered uncertainly.

"You have always thought it's a myth, a child's tale, but lately you have heard that I have come to believe in it, isn't that so?" Mendoza pressed him.

"I ... I have heard that, si," Diaz nodded. One could not lie to the Viceroy of New Spain and he was relieved Mendoza had given him that out.

"Well, rest assured, I do believe in it, and even King Carlos believes in it ... enough at least, to have equipped an expedition to go in search of the cities, which we came to believe were deep in Indian territory North of Culiacán, capital of Nueva Galicia province. And now, I can assure you, one of the seven cities of Cibola, as the Indians call them, has actually been found."

"I am ... delighted that Your Excellency has been proven correct," Diaz said, without conviction.

"But you still remain skeptical. Very well. This morning you will hear it from the lips of the actual leader of the expedition. Fray Marcos de Cibola is his official title now. Rodrigo, when Fray Marcos tells his story, be careful to write down everything he says."

"A la orde, Your Excellency," Rodrigo nodded, smiling slightly. "I gather neither you nor Captain Diaz quite trusts this Fray Marcos..."

"I did not say that," Mendoza said. "But I suppose Diaz is not inclined to, because it confounds his previous beliefs. Well, both of you give him an open hearing and see how you feel after the friar's tale."

"I shall try," Diaz promised.

"Ah, Francisco, how good of you to be on time!" Mendoza greeted the tall, well-muscled man of perhaps thirty, with the scarlet tunic, and the black flashing eyes and white-toothed grin of the Castilian military elite.

"But I am always on time, Don Antonio," he said lightly, easing himself into a chair across from Rodrigo, also at the shadowed end of the table.

"Captain Diaz, I would like you to meet Francisco Vasquez de Coronado, the governor of Nueva Galicia. It is from his capital at Culiacán that Fray Marcos' expedition started."

"It is to be known in official records as Fray Marcos' and Estevanico's Expedition, surely," Coronado gently corrected his superior. "I mean, in the light of what happened..."

"I remind you, Francisco," Mendoza's rebuke was less gentle in tone, "that we do not yet know exactly what happened. That, in part, is what we are here for this morning. I mean, you yourself have indicated having some qualms. But, at any rate, that is hardly the point. Estevanico was never the leader of the expedition."

"Never in name, no," Coronado admitted grudgingly. "It is concerning that..."

"Captain Diaz and my secretary Rodrigo..." Mendoza interrupted the governor, and Rodrigo nodded to Coronado at the semi-introduction, "...are hearing Fray Marcos' story for the first time. Let us not say anything that would color their hearing."

"Of course," Coronado grunted and fell silent.

"Show Fray Marcos de Cibola in," the Viceroy turned to Diaz, "and, when you return, sit with us at this end of the table. We'll give the Friar his place in the sun, for a while."

The man who followed Captain Diaz back to the table and took his place in the sun seemed totally unaffected by his isolation in this cell of light. He sat back confidently, folded his thick hands over his ample stomach and, in response to Mendoza's request to summarize his Relacion on the Expedition of 1539, spoke in a forceful voice which only served to emphasize the strength of both his body and his personality.

"We left Culiacán on Friday March seven of last year. The weather was mild, as most of the spring and summer of 'thirty-nine turned out to be, and we made good time for, as had been reported by our advance scouts, the Indian tribes were peaceful and helpful and the crops were plentiful."

"Perdone. How many of you were there?" Rodrigo looked up from his notebook.

"Fray Onorato and myself--although Onorato had to turn back with the fever within two days--a dozen soldiers, another dozen Indian bearers..."

Fray Marcos paused in his list.

"And Estevanico, of course," Mendoza prompted him.

"You could hardly fail to count Esteban," Fray Marcos snorted bitterly. "Esteban and his bevy of native beauties, six at first, but more with every village we passed through."

"That can hardly have been pleasing to you," Mendoza observed, chuckling. "Estevanico and his traveling harem."

"Sin is never pleasing to me," Fray Marcos said, his eyes momentarily cold. Then he sighed with resignation. "I would be less than honest with you if I said that Esteban was not a thorn in my side from the start. Despite your warning to him that he should obey me as he would you, it soon became apparent that, once we were beyond the influence of our civilization and your authority, he was not about to obey anybody."

"He was always strong-willed and fiercely independent," Mendoza nodded. "Even Nuñez de Vaca, who knew him as a younger man, said that."

"Those qualities were not what rankled," Fray Marcos grumbled. "Those I could have tolerated in a guide. And the fact that the Indians we met all fell under his spell and trusted him, that was undoubtedly important to what success we had. But, to my mind, he was always too ready to enter into the spirit of the Indians' celebrations, dancing their pagan dances, drinking their foul libations, and, of course, mating with their all-too-willing daughters. With the result that I often felt called upon to admonish him for his behavior."

"And how did he take that?"

"He didn't listen. The first time, he told me 'I find your strictness too extreme,' and after that ... no reaction. Moreover, he had no compunctions about accepting gifts of peacock feathers, rich stones, fine pottery, clothes and adornments, and even pretty girls to serve his meals and dress him..."

"And undress him," Coronado murmured with a smile.

"So, by the time we reached Vacapa at Easter," Fray Marcos ignored Coronado's aside, "he was dressed as an Indian prince, his hair worn in long braids with dozens of tiny copper bells woven into them. And he had enough personal baggage for ten men. And the willing slave girls to carry it. Why, he had an entourage of sixty girls and native bearers by the time we reached Vacapa. And he was far richer than I thought decent for a man on an expedition of discovery and the missionary work of bringing our gospel, which includes, of course, the message of the virtues of chastity and poverty. So I did not look forward to spending the solemn holidays in the same town with him. Moreover, Easter coincided, it seemed, with an Opata Spring Fertility Festival, in which there was undoubtedly to be much drinking, dancing and wenching and I did not wish our party embarrassed or our message compromised by Esteban's drunken behavior."

"So you solved the problem by having him go on ahead with his retinue," Mendoza nodded.

"It was perhaps my only mistake," Fray Marcos admitted. "But I tried to keep my authority. He left with strict instructions that he must not advance more than fifty or sixty leagues ahead of us, and that he should communicate with me daily in code concerning the nature of his discoveries."

"Just for clarification," Rodrigo asked, "what was the code to be?"

"If he had found nothing of importance, he was to send me only a cross the size of a man's palm. If it was of relatively greater significance, say an unknown town, a cross two spans wide. And something momentous was to be both a larger cross and a message, borne by one of the Indians he could trust implicitly."

"Gracias." Rodrigo wrote it down.

"Imagine my reaction when, just four days later, Bartoleme, a black-skinned Petatlán Indian and Esteban's right hand man, arrived back bearing a cross the size of a man and the message that they had reached a group of Indians who had seen great cities to the north, numbering seven. Esteban was then about thirty days march from the first of these, which was called Cibola."

"And thus did the Seven Cities of Antilia became the Seven Cities of Cibola," Rodrigo wrote down.

"The Indians had told him such marvels of this city that he could scarcely believe them, Bartoleme said, and he proceeded to detail the wonders to me. But I stopped him saying, 'I will believe, only when I have seen.'"

"Admirable skepticism," Mendoza said dryly.

"So the very next day, we pushed on to the Rio Sonora, which was the point Esteban had reached," Fray Marcos picked up his narrative again. "Though, when we reached the spot where he had camped, there was a message, left behind with one of his retinue that he had grown impatient and pressed on. And the next few days were a perfect example of how Esteban's qualities could be both useful and damnably infuriating. On the one side, his rapport with the Indians meant I could travel in complete safety and always receive warm and friendly welcomes wherever I went. But his independent nature meant that he wished always to be out ahead of me. I think he hoped to gain all the glory of finding the Seven Cities for himself."

"So, how did this end?" Mendoza asked.

"You know. I wrote it to both of you in my letters," Marcos looked confusedly at the Viceroy and Coronado.

"But Captain Diaz and my new secretary Rodrigo have not had a chance to read your missives. We shall tolerate hearing it again for their sakes, won't we, Francisco?"

"Gladly," Coronado nodded.

"Understand, I did not see this happen, but I have no reason to distrust the account of Bartoleme, who did," Fray Marcos prefaced his narrative, seeming a bit loath to continue for the beads of perspiration glistened on his forehead in the sun. "Esteban had by this time crossed the Zuni river and entered into the land of the mesas, great flat-topped mountains, sometimes fifty-sixty leagues square, and on one of these he found the first of the Seven Cities, which a native told him, was called Hawikuh. Accordingly, he camped outside its walls as usual and sent Bartoleme to the Cacique of the town with his usual offering of peace, a medicine rattle made of a gourd, adding to this one a special adornment of his tiny bells. Now a medicine rattle is usually prized as a gift, but this one, for some reason, angered the Cacique--perhaps it was the bells--and, as Bartoleme reported back to Esteban, he threw it to the ground in great wrath and said, 'If they enter my city, I will kill them all.'

"Again, according to Bartoleme, Esteban was not fazed by this warning, for he had great faith in his powers to charm the Indians and he took six of his favorite girls, and Bartoleme, and marched boldly into Hawikuh."

"And was summarily captured."

"Yes," Marcos nodded. "However, they kept him alive for three days, putting him on display all day in the central square. But so confident of his eventually winning them over was Esteban that he spent the nights drinking and fornicating with the Indian girls. Then, finally, the elders of the town seemed to make up their minds. It took three days, I imagine, because there were some who believed they'd captured a god, never having seen a man like him before. However, immediately their decision was reached, they brought Bartoleme and the six girls to watch as they garroted Esteban in front of the townspeople and, to prove he was not a god as had been rumored, they chopped his body into parts. Then they set Bartoleme and the girls free to warn the others ... and me following behind ... what would happen to those who ventured into Hawikuh. Bartoleme brought me what looked like Esteban's index finger as proof of what he said. It was a ghastly memento..."

Fray Marcos fell silent, staring at his lap, remembering.

"So, you turned back then," Mendoza prompted.

"No, indeed!" Fray Marcos puffed up like an indignant iguana. "I had a duty to Your Excellency and to King Carlos, to verify what Bartoleme had reported, both about Hawikuh and about Esteban's death. Thus, despite Bartoleme's pleas, I pushed on until I reached the mesa topped by that first of the Seven Cities. And it was an imposing sight as seen from the top of a nearby hill. The houses are of stone with terraces and flat roofs, and their cupolas seem to be covered with gold. And I would have tried to enter the city, except that Bartoleme reminded me that I was not just risking our lives, which are of little consequence, but, if we were to be captured and killed we should be derelict in our duty to provide information for you. So, I took only the time to erect a small cross on the furthest spot we had reached, claiming the land for King Carlos..."

"Why a small cross?" Mendoza queried. "Surely such a claim requires a large one."

"There was no wood to build a larger one," Marcos explained. "Then I turned back and made all haste to Culiacán and then to Mexico City and Your Excellency."

"Gracias, Fray Marcos, for your concise yet detailed narrative," Mendoza nodded. "You have indeed proved most dutiful. You may be excused now to await my further pleasure."

"In all things, I serve my God and King ... and you, Viceroy," Marcos bowed his way out of the room.

"Sycophant!" Mendoza sneered when he had gone. "All right, Rodrigo, you got everything he said?"

"I believe so," the young man nodded.

"Then attend to our second witness to the same events, Pedro de Castenada, official recorder of the expedition. Ask him to come in, Captain Diaz?"

Diaz nodded and went to the door, ushering in an extremely tall man with the stooped shoulders and downcast eyes of one who is self-conscious about his height.

"Tell us what happened from the time you left Culiacán," Mendoza ordered when the man was seated, looking uncomfortable in the presence of the Viceroy.

"But it is all in my Relacion," he said weakly.

"And Don Coronado Señor Aquilino and Captain Diaz have not read your Relacion. That would be a waste of their time," Mendoza said impatiently. "Begin with the date you left Culiacán. March eighth, was it?"

"March seventh," Castenada shook his head, and launched into his narrative.

And, after a while, Rodrigo began to wonder if listening to Castenada were not also a waste of time, for the two narratives, as he followed along with his notes, seemed to be virtually identical.

Until they reached the part about Estevanico's death and the subsequent events.

"I did not hear Bartoleme's story," he allowed, "but I have no reason to suspect that it was not as reported to me by Fray Marcos."

"Did you not seek verification from the six Indian girls who were with them?" Mendoza asked.

"I tried to, but they had disappeared immediately after they got safely back to us. Without Esteban, there was no reason for them to stay, I guess."

"And you did not try to confirm with Bartoleme?"

"He too left immediately after reporting to Fray Marcos."

"But Estevanico's severed finger? You saw that, of course."

"Bartoleme must have taken it with him."

"So you pushed on to Hawikuh?"

"I did not. Fray Marcos took a small party and went further on."

"How long was he gone?"

"From dawn one day 'til noon the next. And then we packed up our tents and returned to Culiacan in great haste, arriving there June twenty-eighth."

"And what day was Estevanico killed?"

"To the best of my recollection the second to last week in May ... nineteenth, I think ... it's in my Relacion."

"Did you see any of the mesas yourself?"

"Oh, si, we were camped in mesa country," Castenada nodded.

"Pretty arid country?" Mendoza surmised. "Sparse vegetation?"

"Hardly. There are savannah grasses, great stands of cottonwood..."

"I see, gracias. And how far north of Culiacán is this first of the Cities of Cibola, this Hawikuh?"

"Give or take, a thousand ... miles, that is. We're using the new Spanish measure now," Castenada answered.

"I know of it. Some five thousand feet, I believe," Antonio de Mendoza smiled. "Gracias, Señor Diego. You are excused to await my pleasure."

"Your servant, ever."

And Castenada bowed and backed his way out of the room.

"Well?" Mendoza turned back to the three men.

"If you're looking for contradictions in their stories," Coronado answered, "you're out of luck. Certainly, Castenada is taking some points on trust, since the verifiers seem to have gone missing, but..."

"But the point is, why did they go missing?" Rodrigo dared to interrupt his social better. "And does missing perhaps mean dead?"

"One wonders, doesn't one?" Mendoza grinned, pleased that the young man was doing exactly what the Viceroy had anticipated he would do.

"And there are one or two glaring contradictions that throw a shadow over the whole tale," Rodrigo continued.

"Like what?" Captain Diaz looked puzzled.

"Like Fray Marcos says he went on to view Hawikuh after Esteban's death."

"And you suspect he did not?"

"He was approximately fifty-sixty leagues behind Esteban from Vacapa on?" Rodrigo asked.

"So I understand, yes," Coronado nodded.

"So we are being asked to believe that he marched to Hawikuh, paused to observe the town and to erect a cross there and returned, a total of maybe one hundred leagues or more, all in the space of a day and a half?" Rodrigo asked.

"That would be impossible ... even if they didn't rest," Coronado reluctantly agreed.

"And, as for that cross, he says he built a small one because there was no wood..."

"And Castenada says there are large stands of cottonwood," Coronado nodded. "Someone is lying."

"The one with the most face to save is Fray Marcos," Melchior Diaz nodded in. "He was supposed to be leading the expedition."

"But that is hardly proof..." Coronado objected.

"Exactly," the Viceroy beamed. "That is precisely why there is going to be a second expedition to Hawikuh to attempt to verify either Marcos' story or Castenada's Relacion. Led again, in part, by Fray Marcos."

"But why would you trust...?"

"I don't. That is why Marcos will lead only a contingent of friars whose orders are to build a mission and bring Christianity to the heathen of the mesas. The military part of the operation will be led by you, Captain Diaz ... its aim to stake the land for King Carlos, as Marcos may well have failed to do. In that task you will be assisted by a new recorder and secretary, our new employee here, Rodrigo Aquilino."

"We are servants to your Excellency ever," the two men nodded.

"Bueno. Coronado, go and hire a force of, say, a hundred good fighting men. Tell them the Viceroy himself will see that they are handsomely paid and will share in the treasure that is found. Oh, and get horses. The Indians have never seen horses. Worked wonders for Pizarro in Peru, I hear."

The three men bowed slightly and turned to go.

"A moment more of your time, Señor Rodrigo?"

The tone was a question, its intent an order. The young man with the darker skin of the Castilian nobility turned back as Coronado and Captain Diaz left the room.

"I am interested," the Viceroy continued when the young man was seated again, "why you did not bring up another obvious problem?"

"About time and distance?"

"Si."

"Because it brings up all too many questions."

"Such as?"

"If you mean that we are being asked to believe that Marcos and Castenada traveled an average of forty miles a day, without horses, to go from near Hawikuh to Culiacán in five weeks, how did they accomplish that? They'd have had to fly."

"Exactly, which poses the question?"

"Were they anywhere near Hawikuh, if it even exists?"

"And implying?" the Viceroy prompted.

"That Estevanico was not killed at the possibly mythical Hawikuh at all."

"Which leads to the conclusion?"

"That both Marcos and Castenada are lying."

"Which brings up the question, why?" the Viceroy concluded. "Why should they lie about the death of a man they seem to have both resented?"

"As I said, all too many questions," Rodrigo nodded.

"Still, they must be asked ... and answered. And that is your real job on this expedition, Rodrigo ... to discover what you can about the death of Estevanico."

"If he's even dead..."

"I have little doubt of that," the Viceroy said glumly. "Though I doubt it was the Indians at Hawikuh. You never traveled with Estevanico. He charmed the natives wherever he went. They loved him ... some quite literally. So where and when he was killed. And why. And by whom ... was it Marcos, jealous of his usurping power ... a jilted Indian lover? All that you must find out."

Suddenly Mendoza paused and looked toward the window through which a now pale sunlight was filtering.

"Look out the window," he said with a slight gesture of his hand. "Tell me what you see."

"Por que, señor?"

"Just do it."

"Very well..." Rodrigo paused, considering how to describe the crowds of armored soldiers and half-naked Indians working on the causeways below the palace. "I see ... more surprises."

"What do you mean? What kind of surprises?"

"Mostly contradictions between what I expected and what was there. Like the sense of space."

"Explain."

"I mean," Rodrigo shrugged, "I was heading across the uncharted ocean to a great, unknown world. It all seemed a vast, uncabinned void. Instead I got..."

"The Santa Rosa," Mendoza chuckled.

"Oh, I was prepared, at least intellectually, for the tininess of the ship ... if not emotionally for its exquisite sense of total confinement. But the ocean was at least suitably vast and inscrutable, its placid rollers, so bright and twinkling in the sun, yet muttering beneath their calm blue surface with the darker tones of the barely-restrained wrath of the Almighty.

"However, where I had expected the fresh sea air on my face, I got instead the pervasive stench of stale urine, as if our ship were sailing within its own little stoppered bottle of agua del letrina.

"And when we reached the "open spaces" of the new world, we found them surprisingly congested. Oh, the forest-clad mountains rose majestically enough ... and presumably emptily too. But the narrow roads on which we traveled were crammed with humanity and beasts of burden, all smelling on the same urine we had brought with us across the sea. And, again, where I had been told I was going to a near-tropical country, I found myself freezing as the roads wound up the mountainside, burrowing closer to my horse at night, sleeping with the stink of horse-piss in my nostrils.

"And finally, there was my destination ... the great capital of Mexico City, Tenochtitlan, city of the mountain peaks. Who would have expected such a glorious citadel, temple of the great Monteczuma, to be a collection of muddy islands connected by decaying causeways and barely rising out of--or sinking into--the stagnant waters of a great marshy lake?

"Surely, a city a mile and a half up the mountains should not smell like a tidal backwater, with thousands of people crammed together on hundreds of tiny islands--like a hundred stationary Santa Rosas--all slowly sinking, with the weight of civilization built upon civilization, into the eternal swamp of history.

"'Surely,' I thought this morning, looking at the vista from my window, "Doomsday should smell more like brimstone than like swamp water.'"

"But, perhaps, this is not Doomsday," Viceroy Mendoza smiled. "We build the new world upon the old. That is progress."

"Yes, but first we always feel we have to smash the old into shards too small to be useful, able to form only the shakiest of foundations upon which to build the new. Nowhere is that more obvious than here. The Tenochtitlan temples are built upon the ruins of the Olmec, and those upon the fragments of a previous society, and those upon another, and now all are too weak to support the presidential palace you now propose to construct in the zocalo. So it is inevitable that it will all sink ... and Lake Texcoco will one day be as calm and unruffled as upon the morn of creation."

"But, surely, you can see it is symbolic that we build our new palace on the crushed ruins of Monteczuma's temple," Mendoza objected.

"I can see your palace as more symbolic if it is built on a rise of rocky shore overlooking the gradually vanishing errors of your predecessors," Rodrigo said without anger.

"Good!" The Viceroy laughed suddenly. "You have answered my question."

"Was I asked one?" Rodrigo raised one dark eyebrow.

"I asked you to tell me what you saw out that window," Mendoza explained. "You see, I need a man who cannot only see with the eyes--which is mere perception ... though hard enough to find--but one whose mind can tell him the significance of what his eyes have seen--which is true vision--and, finally, whose confidence in his interpretation will dare to conflict with others' ... notably, mine. Your response indicates to me that, in you, I seem to have found all three: perception, vision and a certain ... let us say, bloody-mindedness. You will do!"

And he clapped Rodrigo on the shoulder.

"You see, Rodrigo, I could wish that I were still strong enough to be my own investigator, but that is not to be. So you must be my eyes and ears and nose. Make me feel I am young and on the trail again; make me see the terrain, the people, the atmosphere--but, above all, see behind what you are shown and find how Estevanico died."

"A tall order for a mere secretary," Rodrigo murmured.

"Come now," the Viceroy chuckled. "You underrate yourself. I have heard of a task you performed for King Carlos..."

"The Atatlán Conspiracy?"

"Exactly. That convinced me you were my man."

"I have wondered why you picked me from my obscurity to be your secretary," Rodrigo said.

"I had other reasons, too," Mendoza's smile was enigmatic. "So, you will go with Marcos and Diaz, writing copious notes of all you see and hear. But, most important, you will write to me in great detail regarding anything that might pertain to Estevanico's murder."

"I am at your service, of course," the young man nodded his head in a perfunctory bow. "But, now, may I be allowed to ask a few questions of my own?"

"But of course."

"Then, I believe they are four. One, who is this Esteban that you are so concerned about his death? Two, why did you not make him leader of the Expedition when he seemed to have the qualities and the inclination? Surely that would have avoided the conflict with Marcos which may have led to his death. Third, as a matter of curiosity, why do Fray Marcos and Castenada refer to him as Esteban, a formality that, in the circumstances, suggests he is an inferior, while you and Coronado use the familiar diminutive, Estevanico? And, finally, why did Marcos say the Indians 'hadn't ever seen a man like him?'"

"You don't miss a thing, do you?" the Viceroy laughed. "Very well, all the questions really have the same answer, though I will begin with the second. I could not make him leader, for the soldiers and priests would not follow a heathen."

"Estevanico was not Christian?"

"Hardly, he was a Moor."

There was a pause.

"A ... black man."

"As midnight."

"He had been a slave then?"

"Interesting that you should draw that conclusion," Mendoza observed. "There are free blacks, you know. But you are right. He was still a slave, in fact. Formerly of Nuñez de Vaca's but, at the time, mine."

"Then my first question still stands. Why are you going to all this trouble for a mere slave?"

"One thing you will discover, Rodrigo, my son, is that Estevanico ... love him or hate him..." the Viceroy slowed his speech so that each word was a separate burst of sound. "The ... man ... was ... no ... mere ... slave."

Then the Viceroy smiled and shrugged, saying matter-of-factly,

"Some believe he was not even a man."


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