2.3 The Blade
After they had eaten, Sophia returned to say she would be finished in an hour. They decided to kill the time by walking back to the town and its shops. A swordmith caught Juan’s eye as he was hammering out a sturdy blade of good length and width. It bore the distinct curve of a cutlass, and Juan thought it would suit some pirate well. Francisco could see his interest in the weapon and commented, “That would be a little much for you to handle, Juan. Look at this selection over here.”
Displayed on a rough-hewn table was an assortment of weapons. “The first thing every crewman needs is a decent dagger.” Juan’s eye was immediately drawn to a silver and pearl-handled stiletto. He picked it up and removed it from its sheath, turning it over in his hands to admire the fine workmanship and the strange pattern in the steel. The swordmith noticed. “That, my boy, is a Damascus blade. Came from a Portuguese captain. Claimed he bartered for it in the Far East, but more likely he stole it from some dead pirate.” His eyes lit up as he handled the beautiful weapon. “So what do you think, lad?”
“The boy cannot answer; he is dimwitted,” Francisco interjected. “Is there something more in his league?” “Ahh, yes, certainly.” He handed Juan a fine-looking blade with a beautiful wooden handle. “That’s fine Toledo steel, lad, and the handle is made with Arririba.” As nice as it was, Juan frowned and again picked up the stiletto he had been admiring. “I see you have good taste, boy, but that would cost you some gold.” Juan held out the bag of silver coins the captain had given him.
The man took it and dumped the contents on the table, then swore, grabbing Juan’s wrist. “There is more silver in the handle of that blade than what sits on the table.” His powerful grip caused him to wince in pain and drop the dagger. In a flash Francisco grabbed the man’s thick wrist and said in a low but threatening voice, “My friend, what words did you not understand in my description of the lad?”
The powerful man released his grip. Francisco smiled. “We will take the plain blade and at a fair price.” The swordmith, as strong as he was, did not wish to argue with the quartermaster, whose reputation with a sword preceded him. He obliged and Francisco paid him for the blade. Juan offered to pay but Francisco insisted. “Consider it a gift of appreciation for deescalating my confrontation with Cassius at lunch, it could well have turned ugly.” They left the man’s shop. Neither noticed that from an alleyway Captain Diego had been observing their dealing with the swordmith.
2.4 Our Home is Yours
After touring the other shops they returned to Sophia’s kitchen. She was waiting and Francisco placed a necklace of colorful beads around her neck and kissed her. “They are beautiful, Francisco. Where did you get these?” “I had to fight a Moroccan prince to the death for them.” She placed her hands on her hips. “Really, a Moroccan prince?” “Okay, okay, I bought them from an old lady in Las Palmas, but you have to admit they are beautiful.” “Yes, they are, my love. Now come, let us go home.”
She turned to Juan. “Juan, you are to be a guest at our humble abode.” “Do you understand my words?” Francisco laughed. “He understands them quite well, although his Spanish is not yet perfect.” She looked at her husband, puzzled. “I am confused— you said he was simple.” “No, in truth he is English and we didn’t want the likes of Cassius to find out or he would be in danger.” “English, eh! Well then Juan, you must tell me your story while we walk.”
They hiked from the town for some thirty minutes up a steep pathway cut into the side of the hill. He told the story of how he happened to become a crewmember on the Gabriel. Finally they came upon a small stone cottage with a thatched roof. It was built into the side of the hill that overlooked the town and harbor. The spot was well chosen, for a brook emptied into a pool beside the cottage before tumbling on down the hill. It provided water for drinking, cooking, and on very hot days cooling off.
The cottage itself was a simple affair: a bedroom at each end with shuttered windows facing west and a kitchen in the middle. On the west side of the building, a combination patio and veranda offered a place to relax, eat and enjoy the view. A brick oven for outdoor cooking sat at one end with a large squared table and chairs at the other.
Sophia startled him when she shouted, “Maria!” There was no response. “She is likely exploring again, chasing after that old man’s imaginary treasure.” His ears pricked up when a sweet voice rang out from the forest across the path. “Coming mother.” “Hurry, girl, we have guests.” Sophia led Juan and Francisco into the cottage as a pretty girl bounded around the corner and onto the porch. “Who is here?” She shouted. Sophia nodded toward the door and the girl peeked inside. Francisco grabbed her and she screamed. “Papa! Is it really you?” She kissed him and gave him a big hug.
As her eyes adjusted to the light, she stepped back. “And who is this?” “He is a shipmate, Maria, an English boy who stowed away on The Gabriel in Plymouth.” “But where could he hide on your caravel, Father? Enough questions for now, mi muchachita, we will let the lad tell his story later. Juan, this is my daughter Maria. You can answer all her questions over supper, and I can assure you there will be no end to her questions.”
Maria gave her father a smile as they stepped back into the sunlight, and he was immediately taken with her beauty. Although dressed like a young boy, in moccasins and pantaloons, there was no denying she was a woman. He noticed strapped to her side a bright red sash with a scabbard holding a short sword. Her black hair was tied back and tucked under a loose-fitting white cotton top, revealing a necklace of colored seashells. Dark eyes matched her jet-black hair, and full ruby lips framed a beautiful smile. He had never seen such a beautiful girl, nor experienced the sudden feelings that overcame him.
“Juan!” Francisco said. “Juan!!” He snapped his fingers in front of the boy’s infatuated gaze. “If you could take your eyes off my daughter for a minute, you might help me with the awning.” Maria giggled as he apologized while helping Francisco unravel a large piece of sailcloth. Once propped up, it created shade across the porch, protecting them from the hot Caribbean sun.
“Mother, where did you get those beads?” Maria asked. “Why, from your father. Francisco, did you forget your only daughter?” “Well I…I never even thought…” he said while rummaging through his pack. “Will this do?” He pulled out an identical necklace and put it over her head. Maria undid the ribbon on her hair and let it cascade over her shoulders. “They are beautiful, Father,” she said while smiling at their guest. This did not go unnoticed by Francisco. “Maria, he is only sixteen. Do not lead the poor boy on.”
“Actually,” Juan interrupted, “I believe I turned seventeen just three days ago.” “You see, Father, he is a man just like you.” She giggled. “A man, eh! Well, young man, just remember what I said to Cassius earlier today.” Maria’s smile turned into a scowl at the mention of the Spaniard’s name.
They all sat at the table and drank lemonade. Sophia moved to her husband’s knee and they kissed like long lost lovers. Suddenly, Maria jumped up and took Juan’s hand, dragging him from his chair. “Come,” she said. “We must leave these two lovebirds to their cooing.” “For at least an hour!” Francisco yelled after them. “Or two,” chimed in Sophia, laughing.
2.5 Young Love
“Follow me,” Maria said. She led him up the steep lane and began to climb an even steeper pathway up the side of the hill. Juan could barely keep up, and more than once she had to stop, enabling him to catch up. Finally they came to a clearing. He followed her to an outcropping and his breath was taken away by the view. Far below, the town looked tiny, and he swore he could see thirty miles out to sea.
“It’s magnificent,” he said. “Yes,” she replied, placing a hand on his shoulder. “It is almost my favorite spot on the island. You can see up and down the coastline for miles.” His heart pounded at her touch. He told himself it meant nothing—it was just a friendly gesture—but it stirred in him feelings he could not fathom.
He regained his composure. “You said this was almost my favorite spot. What place could be better than this?” She paused and looked into his eyes. “A place I have not shared with anyone else,” she said. “If I show you, you must swear it will be our secret.” “Certainly,” he replied.
She drew her knife. “Extend your arm if you trust me.” He did and winced but did not move as she made a small cut in his forearm, dipped her finger in his blood, and put it to her lips. Then she kissed the wound. “Now you do the same,” she told him. “Do you have a blade?” “Yes,” he said, unsheathing his newly purchased dagger. He hesitated when she extended her arm.
“I cannot cut you,” he said. With her free hand she guided his knife and made a small incision. He repeated her act, tasting her blood and then kissing the small wound. He said, “Now why would that taste so sweet?” She laughed. “Then it is done. Our secret is not to be shared with anyone. Come and I will show you a most wonderful place.”
The young woman headed into what looked like an impregnable wall of jungle and disappeared around a large tree. Again he struggled to keep up, amazed at this girl’s strength and agility. They finally they came upon another opening in the jungle. There in the middle of the clearing, at the foot of a tall waterfall, was a deep pool of crystal blue-green water, shimmering in the afternoon sun. “Stay here,” she said as she ran around the far side and into the lush greenery.
After a few minutes he called her name. “Maria, where are you?” “Up here!” He looked up and gasped. The sun was in his eyes but he could see enough to know she was naked, perched atop the crest of the falls like some Greek goddess. He squinted, trying to take in her beauty, her perfect body silhouetted by the sun. Before his eyes could adjust to the glare, she performed a perfect swan dive into the deep pool below. He searched the water and she surfaced near where he stood.
“This feels good after our long hike,” she said, smiling. “Will you not join me?” He hesitated. “Off with your clothes and jump in,” she said, laughing. He hesitated but started to undress. “Turn your head,” he told her. “Modest, are we?” She turned, treading water.
He was angry with his body for it was reacting as nature intended. He turned to jump while trying to hide his condition. She spun around and laughed. “The cold water might help with that.” Jumping into the ice-cold water cured one problem but created another far more serious, for his stiff and tired muscles immediately cramped.
He surfaced just long enough to scream in pain and then began to sink. Maria dove down and hooked her arms under his, kicking them both back to the surface. She managed to drag him to a flat rock near the base of the falls and told him to pull himself up. She helped by pushing, then climbed up beside him and began massaging his thighs.
As the cramps eased, he once more became aware of her nakedness, and his body reacted. “Feeling much better, I see,” she said as she maneuvered beside him in a sitting position that provided some cover from his gaze. “Sorry,” Juan muttered. He struggled to achieve a similar position. “I didn’t mean to—” “Hush,” she whispered, putting her finger to his lips. “It’s all perfectly natural. It just shows you are a man.”
They sat there quietly for a few moments. “I don’t want this day to end,” he said, looking into her eyes. She smiled. “Maybe this is just the beginning.” Hearing those words, he knew he had fallen in love and would do anything to stay with this girl.
“Have you ever kissed a girl?” she asked. “Why yes,” he said with some hesitation. “Good, then kiss me.” She closed her eyes and waited. The blood rushed to his head as he leaned over and placed his lips on hers, lightly at first, with his hand under her chin. She responded by pressing her lips hard to his, and they found the joy of that first true romantic kiss.
He let his hand slip to a firm breast. She gasped, grabbed it, and said. “That, my dear, is more than kissing.” He saw her cheeks were flushed and realized she must be experiencing the same feelings. She stood quickly, her back to him, and dove into the pool to quench her own fires.
With some difficulty he rolled onto his belly, letting the sun warm his tired muscles. Eventually he eased himself back into the pool. They swam over to the shallow side and she exited, unashamed by her nakedness.
Looking over her shoulder and smiling, she said she would return in a few minutes. Once dressed, they sat on the embankment, held hands, and talked, sharing each other’s adventures and dreams until the sun began to settle in the west.
“Well, we have given the two lovebirds long enough,” Maria said. “We’d better go back before they start to worry.” She gave him a long kiss and then, in one swift move, she was up and away. He followed clumsily; thankful it was downhill, for his legs still ached.
When they arrived, Francisco and Sophia were sitting on the porch watching the setting sun. “Finally you have arrived! Where did you run off to with my lovely daughter?” Juan started to stammer something when Maria jumped in. “I showed him the lookout father and tomorrow I would like to show him the caves.” Juan was puzzled for she had not mentioned any caves.
“Oh, I don’t think Juan here wants to spend his time with a silly girl traipsing through caverns when he could be mingling with soldiers and adventurers in Santiago. Right, lad?” He looked at his young shipmate, who was now blushing. “Actually I really would like to see these caves, Francisco” Sophia laughed. “The caves or our daughter?” Without thinking, Juan blurted out, “Your daughter! I mean, the caves, for I have heard so much about them.” Francisco stroked his beard, studying the two of them. “Okay, as long as it is the caves you two are exploring.” Maria punched her father on his arm, and Sophia quickly changed the topic to the preparation of a late evening meal.
Francisco motioned to him. “Come my boy, and sit with me.” Juan sat down nervously beside Francisco, who poured him a drink. It was a combination of the fine liquor they traded mixed with fruit juices, spices, and sugar. Even altered in this way, it burned his throat as he swallowed a mouthful. “I may be mistaken, but it would appear my lovely daughter has the same effect on you as her mother had on me. You are young, and I know you well enough to ask you to respect my daughter’s virtue. If indeed you are meant for each other, your paths will cross again.”
It caught him off guard and he thought carefully before answering. “I understand, Francisco, and I promise I would never treat Maria with anything but respect.” Francisco raised his goblet at that comment as the two women returned, placing platters of food on the table. Francisco slapped Juan on the knee. Good to know—now let us feast.” “What is good to know?” Maria asked. “Nothing important, daughter,” he said while winking at Juan. “Just two shipmates talking.”
That memorable day ended with the four of them laughing, eating, and talking as the sun sank into what many at that time liked to call the Great Spanish Lake. Juan felt he was at home and later fell exhausted unto the cot prepared for him. A warm breeze drifted through the open door.
He turned and looked longingly toward Maria’s room, knowing the woman he loved was on the other side. As if she could read his thoughts, a hand suddenly appeared in her doorway. She whispered, “Goodnight, my pirate. Tomorrow another adventure.” He smiled and answered, “Goodnight, my sweet Maria.” He fell asleep, drifting into a wonderful dream of sailing his own ship with his arm around Maria, who stood by his side.
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