There was no homecoming ceremony for them. There was no time. Alejandro spared a moment to check in on the wounded men, but no more. Bayani caught Perla’s eye as the Maestro made his rounds. He met her wave with one of his own, but that was all. He was a man on a mission, and if the Maestro’s heart held no space for private emotions to leak through, Bayani’s could not.
Their last call was Salazar’s hut. The headman was waiting for them inside with two green coconuts. He opened them with his bolo and served them to the warriors. Between mouthfuls of sweet juice, Bayani and Alejandro recounted their tale.
“The Inrun have returned,” Salazar said quietly.
“Our witch was right.” Alejandro paused. “And it may not be the only landing site. The last time they attacked, they came in thousands. If this were an invasion…”
“We must unite the tribes,” Bayani said. “Like we did the last time the Inrun came.”
Salazar sighed. “Oh, Bayani, if only we could.”
“What do you mean?”
“The young ones aren’t staying. They have gone to the cities or across the ocean, seeking to work for the Hesperians. There may be more people on this island than before, but most are too old or too young for war. And of those who can fight, most do not keep to the old ways. They have traded their swordsfor coin.”
“I don’t understand. Why would they do that?”
A dark expression crossed Alejandro’s face. “The conquistadores promise gold, food and honour. All they need do is surrender weapons they have not used in a generation.” He sighed. “How soon the young forget.”
Bayani stuck out his chin. “I didn’t forget.”
The headman smiled. “And that makes you a man, Bayani.”
Bayani glowed. “What can we do?”
“We must fight,” Salazar said. “But not alone. I will gather the men of the village, and send messengers to the other tribes for help.”
The Maestro shook his head. “They have muskets, my friend. This is no raiding party. They will not risk the wrath of the conquistadores unless they are confident they can stay.”
“That is all we can do.”
“Not all. The conquistadores have a garrison at Pulaka.”
“Why would they come here and dirty their pretty uniforms?”
“We pay tribute. The Inrun won’t. More importantly, they have more muskets than the Inrun, and with their horses they can move faster than the Inrun.”
“They only visit to collect ‘taxes’. Why would they listen to us?”
Maestro Alejandro’s voice took on a hard edge. “They will listen to me.”
Salazar frowned. “I…Maestro, among us you are the most skilled at war. You are needed here.”
“No. You are needed here. I am not. You are the headman, and I…I am merely the outsider whom your father welcomed with open arms so many years ago. I have passed on my knowledge to the men of the village. And I am the only one here who can speak to the conquistadores.”
Bayani blinked. There was more history here between the men than he thought he knew. But he kept his mouth shut.
“Very well. You will be going alone?”
“Bayani comes with me.”
Bayani blinked again. “Me, Maestro?”
“I am an old man, and old men sometimes need strong hands to help.”
The Maestro didn’t look old. He moved with the grace and vigor of a man thirty years younger. But…he had no hair on his head, his brows had turned white, and his wiry torso was criss-crossed with an impressive collection of scars. Even Salazar, headman as long as Bayani could remember, was younger.
“Bayani is barely a boy,” Salazar said. “Surely a more experienced man would be a better companion?”
“The Inrun may be coming here next. Bayani’s absence would not be as keenly felt as a more experienced sword arm.”
“Ah. You are wise as always, Maestro.”
“But my mother—” Bayani started.
“You can’t save her if we’re all dead,” Alejandro said. “Unless you care to fight them all by yourself.”
“I understand, Maestro.”
The warriors finished their drinks and left.
“Clean your weapons and gather provisions,” Alejandro said. “Meet me at the banana grove. We will leave when you are ready.”
“How long do I have?”
“For every minute you tarry, the Inrun march that much closer to the village.”
Bayani sped home. The hut seemed too large for him. He cleaned his sword and scabbard with rags and oils, then filled his sack with cured meat, nuts, potions and herbs. The journey to Pulaka would take three days on foot, and he packed accordingly.
His preparations complete, he paid a visit to Perla at her home.
“You’re back,” she said, smiling.
“Not for long,” Bayani replied.
“Yes. The Maestro has a mission for me. He wants me to accompany him to Pulaka.”
“You’re going to ask the garrison for help?”
“How do you—”
“I heard the wounded men speak. The Inrun are here. The Maestro wouldn’t leave unless he were going to get help.”
“How long will you be away?”
“Six days, maybe.”
She sighed. Nodded. “All right.” She touched his face. “Go. Waste no more time on me, Bayani. Save our people, then come back for me.”
He wanted to stay here forever. But she was right. He squeezed her hand. “I will. Count on it.”
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