el Rio Fuerte
Hand's out of the cast but still in a brace. So, typing is slow and often filled with errors. So, I'll keep the posts small but will fill them with what I hope all of you will enjoy. This is the introduction to one of my main characters, Jaime the Carpenter and how he came to eventually meet with and follow Santo Junipero.
As always, there are three boxes at the end of the post and I would appreciate your response there. And, as always, comments are appreciated.
THE SAILOR AND THE CARPENTER
Condors Circle Carcasses
September 1767 - Culiacán, Mexico
Friar Pedro of the Order Minor of Saint Francis fought back the urge to sneeze - again. The dust of the road filled his nostrils as he and Friar José passed through the foothills of the western Sierra Mountains of New Spain. The flat brimmed hat above his gray habit helped abate the sun’s heat. His backside hurt from hours of riding his donkey. The little long-eared creature was willing but it had to scramble over uneven spots in the rough road.
The friar refrained from asking his companion how much further they had to travel. It was the fifteenth day of their sunrise to sunset trek from Santiago de Querétaro. He could not bring himself to complain as he had served many years under Father President Junipero Serra, a man who never, ever complained about what fate brought. The road alongside El Rio Fuerte, or Strong River, was filled with ruts and uneven spaces where rains brought down mudslides or washed away the hillsides.
The river snaked through the mountains, the steep canyon walls covered with towering pines mixed with oaks and thick brush.
“Do we have any idea where we are?” Friar Pedro asked.
Friar José sought landmarks on the map he carried. Spying a unique mountain ridge, he told his companion, “According to the map, Padre, we are not far from our goal.”
Corporal Olvero, the leader of the six Soldados de Cuera, the mission soldiers accompanying them, turned to pass the word. “We do not have much further to go, men.”
That elicited mutterings of relief, not just from the soldiers but their wives and children following behind, most of them helping with the pack mules.
The tumbling river cut a steep slice out of a hill that caused the narrow road to switch back and forth to reach its crest. A dark aquamarine expanse spread from the ends of the horizon several leagues ahead. Below them, the hills became less rugged and splotches of green showed verdant life. The river calmed and formed a large lake beyond which they saw a cluster of buildings.
“That must be Culiacán,” Friar José said.
Friar Pedro sucked in a breath of relief.
The party was on a mission directed by His Eminence, Archbishop Diaz-Salerno of the Archdiocese of la Nueva España. The Viceroy of The New World ordered the bishop to send forth emissaries to take charge of missions presided over by Jesuit priests. Father President Serra, their superior, had been designated el Presidente de las Missioners de las Californias. He had, in turn, sent out his two most trusted colleagues to go in advance to relieve the Jesuits assigned to the church in Culiacán.
“Do we know anything of this place, Padre?”
Friar José thought a moment before answering. “It was founded in fifteen hundred and thirty one, at the junction of the Lazuli and Human Rivers, I believe.” He pursed his lips and added, “At least those are the names on the map.”
Franciscans had served in New Spain since the early fifteen hundreds, mostly in the northeastern provinces. The Jesuits had dominated New Spain for generations.
One of the soldiers pointed to the north. About a dozen large birds flew in circles over a hidden spot. “The birds circle death, Corporal.”
Corporal Olvero agreed, telling the soldier, “Do not worry. It is far from here.”
The other soldiers looked around. Many thousands of Indios had died from diseases brought by the Españoles. Were there, perhaps, such warriors hiding in the surrounding hills, seeking revenge for those deaths?
“We should go to see what it is. There may be survivors.”
Friar José, as the senior of the two, thought about his colleague’s comment. His position came from his calling as the spiritual leader of the pair while Friar Pedro was skilled in vocational callings.
“Do we need to seek the site of death?”
“There is still much daylight,” Friar Pedro said. “It will not take long to examine the site.”
Friar José turned to wave the corporal closer. “What think you, Corporal Olvero? Do we have time to go there?”
The soldier, a veteran of almost ten years on the frontier of New Spain, was far from home in the mountains of Andalusia in the south of Spain. His wife and son rode in the group following the spare horses and pack mules. As they were Mestizos of mixed blood, he did not fear they would be affected by the remnants of pox, if that was what had caused the death. He shrugged and said, “You know, Reverendo Padre, my soldiers and I will do as you wish.”
The friars felt secure in their companion’s loyalty and courage.
“Perhaps we will find those you may bring to the faith.”
Those words from the corporal were all Friar José needed to go ahead and see what they could find. “Perhaps there are survivors.” He then held up his hand and added, “We will mask our faces and be careful.”
The corporal signed to Julio and Hernan, the Indians leading the pack mules and spare horses, telling them, “Stay close. And pass the word to the women to follow at a safe distance.”
They followed the trail for another hundred paces before finding a faint path leading off to the north. Both friars’ robes fended off and caught the endless spines and sharp points of Golconda harbormasters from entering their flesh. The soldiers not only wore thick leather jackets to repulse arrows, but even thicker shields at the left knee. Their twelve-foot lances warded off stray limbs and branches. The leather jacket gave them the name most knew them by, Soldados de Cuera.
“Perhaps we should leave the pack mules, horse and followers behind,” Friar José suggested.
“They have faith in us, Padre, and we cannot leave them. And, they may come of use to us.”
It took an hour for the group to enter a narrow canyon and the dim trail led them down into an arroyo with a small rivulet. A fearsome chirrup caused Friar José to jerk the donkey’s reins, bringing it to a halt. The light brown striped rattlesnake sensed a possible escape and ceased its warning rattle,uncoiling and slithering into a clump of sharp-leaved yucca beneath a towering cactus.
“Brother Serpent does not wish to harm us this day.”
Friar José nodded with a sigh of relief. As the lofty spine-covered plant was new to him, he asked and one of the soldiers told him, “It is called saguaro in the language of Yaqui Indians who live here in Sonora and Sinaloa.”
Friar José wondered but did not ask how the soldier knew such a thing.
With the snake out of their way, the group moved on, more careful as they kept to the open sandy part of the riverbed. It took but a bit longer to near the circling birds. The ravens and crows dove to the ground, then fluttered back into the air. The huge condors feared nothing, folding their wings to alight.
A trail led out of the riverbed and, as they emerged, they saw crude structures of woven sticks daubed with mud, open to breezes, providing shade from the burning sun.
A pack of coyotes sat on their haunches on a rise above the village and several red foxes scurried around the edges. All creatures seemed to sense the varied corpses were diseased. Except for the large carrion birds. The condor’s bald, gray wrinkled heads buried into several human corpses, tearing and rending asunder their flesh. They paused to fight each other for the best sites.
“¡Madre de Dios!” Friar Pedro muttered. “The viruela has come.” The pus-filled blisters and facial scars on the scattered corpses told of the agony suffered by the dead. “Smallpox has taken them all.”
While Julio and Hernan guarded the animals, the soldiers, led by the two friars searched the huts. The women moved into the arroyo to remain out of the men’s way. The sights and sounds of death were as common to them as the rising of the sun.
“Look,” Friar Pedro told his companion, “one of them lives.”
A young boy sat cross-legged on the ground beside two bodies covered with roughly tanned hides. He stared straight ahead, either ignoring or unaware of the arrivals. He held a hefty stick and waved it at any condor trying to approach the bodies.
They found two other survivors, a young girl clutching her baby brother.
Friar José knelt and spoke to the boy. “Are you well, Niño?”
The boy seemed not to hear the words or be aware of the man speaking them. When the friar reached out to take his arm, the boy leapt to his feet, wildly looking around. His eyes blazed with anger for a moment, then dimmed at remembering the deaths of all he knew and cared for.
Julio, standing at the friar’s shoulder, said something in a language the Spaniards almost understood. The boy turned his gaze to his questioner and replied in the same language. “He says he is Cuauhtémoc, Fallen Eagle in Spanish, a warrior of the Cahita.” Julio explained the boy could not be a full warrior, as he only wore a hawk’s feather in his long black hair. “The snake on his upper arm is likely his totem. There are many serpents around here.” He guessed the eagle tattooed to his chest showed his clan.
The boy brightened at the man pointing to his tattoo and said, “Bamako.”
“He confirms it is his totem, the snake, Reverendo Padre,” Julio explained.
“We are not here to hurt you, lad. Do you understand me? Do you speak Spanish?” The Friar slowly said.
The boy stared at him, awareness returning to his eyes. “I speak,” he said in slurred Spanish.
The friar was not surprised. With Spaniards in the area for more than two centuries, it was unlikely the natives would not understand some of the language.
“The people who live here speak Yaqui,” Julio explained. “It contains words close to Spanish.”
The surviving youths were led to the women, two of whom stepped forward to take charge of them. The child refused to leave the girl’s side, clutching her deer hide skirt. To stop the soldiers from staring at the girl’s bare chest, a woman wrapped a cloth around her, tying it in the small of her back where it would be difficult to undo.