Post Image Attribution: Paolo Forlani / Public domain
Barkula was late. Jaral spat out his wad of crushed tobacco leaves he’d been chewing waiting for his furry friend. There were no tracks on the fresh, rain-soaked mud nor was there any sign of this particular primate, plain brown fur and all. Jaral had met Barkula near this spot just over ten years ago, at around the time his first-born came into the world. Thinking about that day brought a smile. The spirits had been particularly generous that year, what with his wife blessing him, a bountiful harvest that found no one wanting, hurricanes having spared his island, and a unification of the hill tribes. Yes, that was a good year.
His wicker basket of fruits and coconuts had started to get heavy, so Jaral gently put down his day’s collection not knowing whether he’d have to skip today’s greet-and-feed. He knew his family would be waiting as would a special meal for his birthday prepared by a woman, he knew was too good for him. Or any man for that matter. Before he’d left, she’d gently combed his hair and clasped on his tribe leader’s necklace with an affection that made his belly feel calm and heart full. Lost in thought, he heard the leaves rustle behind him above in the treeline. That smile returned as he turned around, knowing Barkula would be sitting up in his usual tree, looking at him with those soulful brown eyes.
It was just a parakeet, a particularly large one. He’d seen her many times before, but Barkula was still missing. Jaral thought he’d walk a bit towards the beach, hoping he’d get a glimpse of his elusive friend along the way. This familiar walk had worn a deep path along the forest floor and he paid attention to the cool feeling of decomposing leaves and shoots that carpeted the path caressing the soles of his feet. The trees themselves had started to dwindle around him as his nose began to catch that whiff of ocean breeze, a mix of salt, beached fish, and coconut sap. Jaral began to walk slower, searching among the canopy where Barkula liked to roam hoping for a glimpse.
The leaves underfoot began to give way to sand and crushed cowrie shells, and while Jaral was beginning to get a bit concerned, his keen eyes noticed something entirely novel. Novel was not even a word to describe it, there was no place to connect this collection of objects that met his eyes with anything inside his head. They looked human, in that they appeared to have all the requisite parts but that’s where any connection to Jaral’s memory ended. He did see a boat or what looked like something bobbing on the water; farther yet into the ocean was another gigantic structure, but this he couldn’t make head or tail of.
Just then, one of these creatures noticed him and began to shout in a strange tongue, which seemed like human speech, and at the same time, raised some sort of long stick and pointed it at him. Jaral assumed that this was some sort of pipe and that he was meant to touch it before they shared some tobacco. He reached into his sack and pulled out his pipe, when he heard a long bang. The next second, he was on the ground as he felt a sharp pain in his chest and began to lose consciousness. He noticed the creature staring at him, prodding him and smiling. As his eyes began to close, his line of sight caught the image of Barkula lying near a tree in the distance, not moving.
We shall meet in the afterlife, my brother.
The small rowboat was taking in water, evidence that someone forgot to patch that hole from the last expedition. Still, it would do the job to get them ashore and while the present company he could do without – bastards, ne’er-do-wells, itinerants, and the scum of Spain – Pedro found the water to be quite captivating. He’d never seen water anywhere quite so blue, confirming some of the stories he’d heard from sailors who returned from the New World. The rowing to shore being the easy part, he checked around to see if there were enough guns on board and that they were above the line of water filling the boat. As he rowed, images began to roll into his mind about the part of the world he found himself in. Snippets he’d heard, some exaggerated, some factual.
There would be gold enough to make each man rich beyond his wildest delusions, enough savage women to please his appetite till he could want no more, and no one to keep a check on him. His captain had done two voyages and that was enough to secure a gated villa outside Seville with five slaves. Apparently, he’s only coming back for the free, unadulterated tail. Thinking this made Pedro hard. No one was going to stop him and God was looking the other way. The head priest at his parish could go fuck himself; he certainly didn’t show any restraint when Pedro was a young lad.
He’d heard the natives were brown-skinned and stupid as they came, children of a lesser being no doubt. Pedro’s trance was interrupted by his oar catching sand as it came above the waterline – it was time. Like an invading army of Viking marauders, they grabbed their weapons and bags and jumped out of the boat and dragged it to be beached on shore. Pedro stopped on the beach, surveying the surroundings and noticed an odd creature had come down from one of the trees. This furry brown anomaly neither threatened nor alarmed him, but a feeling rose from the depths of his belly and Pedro took aim.
The harmless creature fell in a clump of matted fur, with its face buried in the sand. Pedro felt nothing beyond the mere pride that accompanies a cowardly hunter’s fresh kill. Just then, the captain alerted the group to their next steps, suggesting they cut through the jungle to where they’d been told was a settlement of these savages. Pedro’s heart began to pump harder, knowing that all those weeks on a ship eating nothing but gruel would be paying off anytime. Gold, fresh meat, and the other flesh he longed for. The savages had better cooperate.
As he brought up the rear of their group, Pedro noticed a half-naked man stepping out on to the beach from a path leading from the jungle. Brown-skinned and loinclothed, he was finally beholding a savage. Panic set in as he broke from the group and walked up to him. He began to shout at him to kneel down and raise his hands, and when he was faced with nothing more than a curious, blank expression, he raised his rifle. The man waited a few moments before reaching into a sack he was carrying and took out a long wooden pipe. Pedro knew this was it, time to act. He braced for the recoil and pressed the trigger.
One less savage to worry about. It was going to be a good day.
There was just too much work, thought Hector. Sitting in his bare office in the port of Valencia, he’d been an average administrator charged with processing the tonnes of goods coming from the territories of New Spain across the vast ocean. Beginning this year, the efforts of the conquistadors began to finally pay off as shipments of gold and silver started to pour in and it was all too easy to begin keeping some for himself. He’d heard stories, and while his mediocre intelligence tried to process and envision the reality on the ground there, he figured it wasn’t up to him to judge the merits or flaws in the Crown’s plans.
Villages ransacked, tribal leaders imprisoned or executed, the minor wars pitting one tribe against another, the endless parade of women to be had or sold, and of course, the plagues the sailors and soldiers brought with them. The islands and new territories were being cleansed too quickly for the Crown’s comfort, since there were fewer and fewer savages to tie to the yoke and make to work. To Hector, the whole game was simple. Spain needed to take what was hers as was divinely ordained, no matter the costs. Father Alfonso said these people they’d encountered were nothing more than talking animals – savages – and it was no one’s fault they were sitting on some of the biggest treasures there were to be had. Spaniards were charged by God to prosper, grow in strength, and the heathen be damned if they stand in the way.
He figured in another life, he’d be out there joining the adventures better men were able to brave through, finding freedom of the flesh, riches beyond any one man’s dreams, and claiming what was the Kingdom’s right. Just then, Jorge – his assistant – burst through the door looking more excited than he’d seen him in a while. The largest galleon Spain had sent was just docking, filled to the brim with more goods than the warehouses of the port could contain. There was already so much to catalog, price, distribute, (keep), and trade with. Jorge’s announcement began to turn the wheels in Hector’s mind, as he imagined what he’d help himself to. Apparently, there were also bringing a fresh batch of slave girls, the finest of the crop yet. His nephew, Pedro, had been on this voyage and while he certainly wasn’t his favourite – given his reputation among the town’s girls – Hector figured he’d have found plenty to satiate his appetites.
He put on his vest and donned his hat, stepped out into the midday sun and began to walk towards the pier, Jorge in tow. The crates were already piling up on the pier and being carted to the warehouse. Hector knew this beast was going to take a few days to empty out, as his eyes glimpsed the special metal crates locked and secured under armed guard. These were the ones to keep track of, silver and gold ingots filling their innards. Even a couple that may go misplaced or missing should be enough for Hector.
His eyes then caught sight of a line of savages bound by their necks, hands and feet and chained to each other being led down the gangway by none other than Pedro. He had an air of might and bravado that he certainly didn’t leave the port with, likely gained through being unleashed without restraint or censure. Hector examined the line of chained humans and liked what he saw, especially the third one from the back. He could use a servant back at his home, and a plaything for when he was bored. He’d just have to grease the right palms and make the right promises. After all, he’d stored way enough for a villa outside the city where he’d be left in peace.
This was 1520, and the Empire was just getting started. It was going to be a good year.