Big Men (1)

Do you want to hear a story? Then come, sit, make yourself warm and I will tell you the one I know best.

Sear Rodrigo called for me in the night as he lay on his deathbed. He was a traveling hermit, old and wizened, who told wonderful stories about people, places and events that happened long ago and far away. I along with the rest of the people of Nuevo Chine loved whenever he stopped by. But on this trip he had fallen ill. The medicine man had made his pronouncement as well as the bruha, that nothing more could be done for him and so the bruha staid close by for she was an old friend of the hermit. He still looked a jolly old man, but thin and withered and managed a weak smile when I walked into his tent.

“Rio. Have I told you the story of Xiao Singh, the Lion?” he asked me as I entered.

“Yes you have,” I said.

“Cut a forest down with his roar alone,” he continued.

“What did you wish to tell me?” I asked, sidestepping one of his longer winded stories, hoping to learn why he’d summoned me.

“Yes,” he said, suddenly somber. “I wanted to tell you something. Something important.”

“I am listening,” I said.

“I don’t know how long I have left in this world,” said Rodrigo. I sat by his side. The bruha made her leave. “Do you know of Esmeralda?” he asked me.

“No. Wait. Yes. The city where Dead Eye Fukuda was born,” I said.

“And where Tanner Longshot made his home after his long journey through the wastes and where the Lion himself made his last stand against Josiwa and his pirates. It is the same city where Mackroy the giant and Sly Miyamoto started their bitter rivalry which lasted for four generations of Mackroys and Miyamotos until two star-crossed lovers ended the feud with their deaths. Yes, Esmeralda is that very city. A city of heroes, my boy.”

“What do you want to tell me about Esmeralda?” I asked.

“I want you to know the truth. There are people who say that Esmeralda no longer exists, or that it never existed at all, mere fancy created by the Yapones. But it is not so. The heroes and villains that walked across tierra mundo, Tierrapon and Meyco and even Mereega came from there. I know, because I have been there myself.”

“You’ve been to Esmeralda?” I asked.

“Yes! And I tell you, it is more than the stories give credit. It is a magnificent place, Rio. The raw soil of heroism rests there. The seeds of legend, myth and epics sprout there! That is why I have traveled all my life, spreading the tales of the city and her people. Esmeralda will never be lost to the ages. That is what I wanted my legacy to be.” Rodrigo sighed a tired sigh. “That is what I wanted.”

“I know the stories. I’ll remember,” I said, trying not to cry.

“Listen, Rio. I want you to do something for me.”

“Anything,” I said.

“I want to you to bring something of mine to Esmeralda.”

“What?” I asked, taken by surprise.

“I know you are a potter’s son. I know your life here is all you’ve ever known. But there is a world out there. A world of people and stories. Stories that must be told. You will find your own calling someday, and someday you will forget about me and what I’ve told you, but before that day comes I want you to see it.”

“But I won’t forget you, Rodrigo! Never,” I said.

“Before you become a potter, a husband, a father. Promise me you will go,” Rodrigo said.

“I… I…” I stuttered. Rodrigo, who had been staring at the ceiling, turned to look at me. In his eyes I saw a man’s dying wish. “I promise.”

“You’re a good boy. See that bag by my feet? Take it to Esmeralda. You can look inside if you want, but you must bring it and you must not lose it. It will be important when you reach the city.”

“How do I even get there?” I asked.

“In La Tierra Yapones, it is known by its true name. Shiyata, the Emerald Under the Sea. Lost in a single day and night of calamity, a great shaking pushed the city into the waters and from the ashes of its destruction rose Esmeralda. A city built by survivors and fighters. You must go north. Past the desert, past the sea of Meycali, past the ruins of San Dieghuana, past the cities of Sanhles, past the bay of Sisco and into Tierrapon. Find Yujin, find Boran, find the old imperial road. Keep going. You will find it. Eventually you will. Eventually. Find Shiyata. Find Esmeralda.”

It was the last thing he ever said to me. It was the last thing he ever said to anybody. He passed before the sun came. The town divided his possessions up as he had no heirs or family. All I was left with was his bag and his stories. Thus far, both have saved me at least once already, but perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself. A year to the day that Sear Rodrigo died, I finally left my home. I was a man now by my village’s reckoning, and no one in my familia could stop me anymore. I gave everything I had to a troupe of nomads so I could come along on their journey north. They treated me with disinterest at first, but eventually I came to know them as friends. And then…

***

I spit hot sand out of my mouth. My dry eyes burn as I shield them from an angry sun. It takes me a few breaths to realize that I am alone. It takes another few to know in my gut that I am very far from help. I have become lost. I have become Perdido.

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