The year 1538, Barcelona, Spain; on a sunny autumn day.
Nothing had changed.
Every facet of this city was how he remembered it. The spires of the ancient cathedral still gleamed in the sunlight, as the leaves slowly browned and fell from the trees. The tall ships still swayed in the harbour, evoking memories of his childhood … of a terrified little boy being hoisted to the masthead to make the sun come out. That was far behind him though, and such thoughts could disturb him no longer.
He had returned to this city after so much adventure for a single reason. Throughout all the times of his travel; through hardship, fear, wonder, camaraderie and love, one thought had pursued him throughout the years … and now he had come to indulge that thought.
In truth, no matter how far he wandered, this place had always been calling him. Father Roderigues was long gone, but he could see the old man's presence in every place he looked. He was grown up now; no longer the boy he had been, but coming back here raised spectres from the past … ghosts that he knew he had to face, but yet had been avoiding for so long.
Things never work out as you believe they will. How could anyone have predicted, all those years ago, the adventures that he would face … the Solaris, the Golden Condor and the search for the first of the seven cities of gold. Looking back, it all seemed like some crazy dream .. a tall tale told in the dockside tavern that was his destination.
The only true evidence of any of all this were the medallions still worn by himself and another; made whole once more by the foresight of the high priest of the city of gold, entrusting the sacred keys to the remaining six cities to Wynacocha before leaving on his final journey, fully aware of the fate that would befall the city. Well … they were the only true evidence apart from the fabulous golden condor, secured in a leafy glade some few miles from the city. Landing their faithful transport in the square outside the cathedral might just have attracted some unwanted attention.
Through the haze of his memories, he took the time to look at his companions, such a part of his life for so long that he couldn't imagine being without them … the dark-skinned Tao, accompanied by the ever-present Kokapetl, who seemed to be examining the construction of the Spanish buildings with his usual scientific curiosity. Despite the friction between them at times, best friends were with you for life. He was quite sure none of them would be there right now if it weren't for Tao.
And then there was Zia … a part of his adventures from the start, who held so much of a place in his heart that he could not even remember how he had felt without her there by his side. He glanced at the simple, sparkling band that encircled her finger, a perfect match to his own, and tried to remember the day when compassion and friendship had turned into so much more. He tried to remember, and he couldn't … in truth, the change had come so gradually that when they finally realised, it wasn't a surprise at all … they had loved each other for so long that it had come to define them long before they admitted it. She met his gaze with a knowing smile; one that said all that ever needed to be said, rendering words unnecessary as their hearts did the talking.
He was here to fulfil a promise … one which had haunted him throughout the days of his wandering, drawing him back to this waterfront dive; this spit and sawdust tavern where the sailors would tell stories of distant adventures in distant lands.
"The tavern where we met for the very first time - that's where we'll meet again!"
He wasn't even sure if they would be there. Undoubtedly, they would have returned with the treasure they had sought; Mendoza was far too canny a man not to have salvaged the gold he had quested for before the city had been swallowed by the earth, leaving no trace of the first of the cities of gold.
Mendoza had always been a hard man to figure out … enigmatic in his demeanour and often mysterious. At first, he had to admit, he and Zia had held widely differing views as to the man; probably due to the differing natures of their meeting, and even towards the end of their quest it had been difficult to judge whether he had been truly the kind, honourable man who deeply cared for his charges, or simply just another Spaniard, more silver-tongued than most, indulging in his race's well-known lust for gold. Say what you would about Mendoza … he was a very complex man.
Now, however, they were here to heal the wounds of their fellowship; to bring back into the fold those who should never have left it. Maybe he had already found new adventures; using his skills as a navigator to discover new lands and new continents. Then again, maybe he had decided to settle down, trading a life of danger for one of quiet luxury with the gold he had earned … maybe.
The door to the tavern swung open, the smell of sailors and cheap ale wafting out to meet him. Laughing at one of Tao's jokes, he called to his comrades, taking in the sights and sounds that greeted him. A lone man sat at the bar, an empty tankard placed in front of him. A plain sword was belted to his side, and he was wearing a familiar blue travelling cloak, of a higher quality workmanship, but familiar nonetheless.
Esteban had, at times, given some thought to where he could consider home … always in the lonely hours of the night, when restlessness led him to abandon his bed and his peacefully sleeping wife, to sit under the stars in silent contemplation. Wherever he pictured … Barcelona, The Village of the New Sun, even inside the great golden condor itself, the faces of his friends would always intrude. Eventually he had come to the realisation … for a wanderer such as himself, home was with his family, wherever that happened to be.
The man at the bar turned, appraising him as he stood in the doorway. A slow smile spread across the older man's face as recognition dawned and he rose to greet them.
Esteban could not help but smile in return. The promise was fulfilled … he was home.