Randy Ford Author- EL CONQUISTADOR Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Eighteen

This was paradise to him, paradise: volcanic islands of coral and sand. Only he hadn’t intended to stay. He thought he would find his fortune in Manila, but his and Omar’s lives crossed. Fate intervened, and their lives crossed. And as the years went by, Carlos depended on a relationship with the sultan, or more accurately with the sultan’s son Omar.

In spite of their differences, Omar and Carlos’ friendship endured. Their lives crossed and death and survival forged it. Considering how much hostility existed between Moros and Christians (Spaniards were Christians, and Muslims mistrusted Christians and vise versa) they should’ve hated each other. They should’ve hated each other but instead they shared each other’s secrets and enjoyed the same things. They both were fond of card playing and horseback riding; though Omar could ride better than Carlos. Omar often took Carlos shooting. They took to the hills and hunted in the forest. They wandered together without regard for time, and if they had a whole day, they took a full day. They went to all parts of the island and islands and were gone for days at a time. Seldom a day went by that they didn’t see each other. Familiar with each other’s opinions and troubles, Carlos and Omar treated each other like brothers.

Sometimes, while smoking, they shared dreams. “Whomsoever God will, he leads astray.” In a dream, and for some capricious reason, “Landing was cut to pieces, just like slicing a citrus.” Landing was grown by then. Omar identified the kris used as his. “Her mouth was filled with saliva, and she was prepared to spit. After I stopped her, I washed her feet; but her last words were inaudible.”

Some of their treks took them great distances. They went great distances because they enjoyed good health and could ride and swim all day. They scrambled around Omar’s domain … much of it untouched. They climbed hills, hills that came down to beaches, and surveyed an unending scene, a magnificent scene that bore evidence of God’s influence.

In time, in an attempt to get ready for his enemies and with Carlos’ help, Omar fortified his stockade. The two friends declared their loyalty even when faced with a Spanish enemy. Instead of using weapons, they joined hands and remained cheerful and hospitable and were in the center of things. Later, when he looked back on his friendship with Omar, Carlos recognized how lucky he was.

Now Omar gave Carlos land for a hacienda, where he could live in peace and raise a family. And on top of a cliff, three hundred feet above a small white coral beach, he built an imposing house. It sat near an open field slashed out of mangrove. Up and down a slippery path, Carlos hauled luxuries over red clay for his house. From his veranda, he looked out over treetops. He enjoyed sitting on his veranda in a rocking chair looking out over his land.

With a huge house and luxuries, Carlos could act like a grandee. He enjoyed being a grandee who owned a piece of an island. He had every reason to be pleased. He had come a long way and had every reason to be pleased. He acted like a grandee, a self-delusion grandee who delighted in furniture from Portuguese Malacca, a gilded bed and a sculptured, antique table. He wore shirts of fine cloth; and his choice of furniture included a cedar chest, a mirror with a mother-of-pearl frame, and a German writing desk. Year after year, rewarded by his friend, he ruled his own domain and acted like a grandee. As opposed to his humble birth, he occupied a dizzy eyrie, a little Spain. He occupied a little Spain in Sulu where he cultivated and raised maize, sugar, and livestock, and where he fought troops of birds and monkeys. In those days, the spaciousness of his home, with its large bedrooms and drawing room, incarnated loneliness. Then let him drink and be merry. Then let him enjoy Sooloo’s spell.

The relationship between man and space in Spain was very enduring and different from what Carlos experienced in Sulu. To compensate, he cleared land for a small pasture. Memory of sheep was too ingrained in him for him to ignore, so he imported a few sheep. He missed bullfights and fishing for black clown fish. Black clown fish swam in streams from Santander to Galicia. Switching from eating wheat and barley to eating rice proved difficult. Without bread, he initially left the table hungry. He clearly missed Old Castile, (the region of Medina and Valladolid) where as a boy he herded sheep.

But what made him stay? Within four or five months, after being ransomed, and becoming more and more an atubang, or a kind of alter ego to Omar, Carlos marked out his course. He marked out his course, and his determination was unshakable.

One day Omar surprised Carlos with a gift of a wife, a wife who possessed every quality needed to make a man happy and who became the mother of his two boys. Omar appeared one day with Felicia and presented her to Carlos. The couple initially seemed happy.

“This is a wife that I give you. Be a good husband and treat her well;” and to Felicia, “this is your husband, be faithful to him.” Let it, therefore, be known, that powers of love acted as a balm and helped cure Carlos of homesickness. Concerning his loyalty, there were several different schools of thought, but the most common one was that he’d one day go back home to Spain. And he’d leave Sulu a richer man than when he came.

We often see men not born into nobility fight and suffer and kill to become lords. In Spain, these hidalgos dominated towns and occupied posts of regidor, conseller, or veinticuatro. From this same cloth came most conquistadors, men such as Cortes and Pizarro, such as Garcia Paredes, or Orellana, great explorers, predators, and adventurers who created the Spanish Empire. Most of these men were obsessed with power and wealth. Did this describe Carlos? Providence indeed favored him. As he prospered, he lived a life of luxury, life of a grandee and in a way granted to no other Spaniard in Sulu..

If it hadn’t been for Omar, Carlos would’ve remained a slave. He would’ve first been a domestic slave and then an entertainer. It if hadn’t been for Omar, he wouldn’t have had any of the luxuries he came to enjoy. He would’ve remained a slave and as a slave he wouldn’t have any luxuries. But as a slave, he would’ve been valued for his musical talent. The future datu and his family got great pleasure from listening to Carlos play his violin.

Whenever he found an excuse, Omar rode over to Carlos’ hacienda to offer his opinions about running the place. He liked to give his opinion about everything, everything from planting to raising livestock. This included raising oxen and buffalo and even sheep. And Carlos accepted his opinions … if not always happily, he at least listened to what Omar had to say. And Carlos kept Omar interested by teaching him cards and social games, and songs and dances of Spain. Then this led to the first tertulias or evening parties in Sulu.

Never before could guests drop in whenever they chose and leave whenever it suited them. As guests entered, Omar always greeted them with his grand vizier and his family; but after that formality, they could talk with whomever. Now the only excuse they needed for a party was a desire for a good time. This informality fundamentally and permanently altered a class system and ultimately made Omar more vulnerable. The main problem with these parties lay in their seductiveness.

Foreign excesses and criticism and fire foreign excesses drew from militant and god-fearing Muslims jarred and divided the community. Those who attended Omar’s parties chose to ignore an ethical moral code that was planted deep within their consciousness. But in reality these strictures were challenged within the palace before Carlos came. Now it was put on public display.

Here is a brief summary of palace crimes. Gambling and opium use in excess. Playing for money gave way to playing blind man’s bluff. And other games … other games and not only games but singing with a guitar or a violin. The largest group of guest always gathered around Carlos and his music. To build a case against Carlos was reason enough for exposing these excesses. But Omar stood behind Carlos, so Omar was accused of gamboling with an enemy, a treasonous act.

In a burdensome way, indebtedness kept Carlos on the island. An alternative to slavery was some other form of obligation, which continued to bind him to Omar. But their bond went much deeper than any debt. With their long friendship and all of their handholding (culturally approved there), their friendship seemed almost intimate. They had influence over each other. They influenced each other greatly, as Moro and Castilian shared a belief in the infallibility of destiny.

Concerning this bond, Carlos always credited it to how they first met and that one of them could’ve killed the other. Unfortunately, some people considered Omar’s friendship with Carlos a weakness and his unwillingness to confront the Spanish a weakness too. Omar’s father, on the other hand, eclipsed him. Omar’s father was known as a reformist and he eclipsed his son in statue, though his impact wasn’t as significant.

Treachery and pirates haunted reefs and shallow green seas. Ghosts of those murdered certainly lived and invoked images of something sinister. These old stories never died.

Before Landing’s first recollection, her father settled the family in a village built over the sea. Their house showed off Mahmud’s newfound wealth. Other boat-dwellers followed suit and built houses there too, but Mahmud’s metamorphosis was never completed.

 But by the time Landing married Omar, her father was a leader of his kindred group. He secured this status by erecting the first Bajau mosque in the area. Mahmud supposedly found Spanish treasure, from which his gold, jade, and silver, etc came from. One day he mysteriously arrived with a captured Castilian slave and accompanied by Omar, his future son-in-law.

As Mahmud looked on with disbelief, the Spaniard gave the Chinese wreck to him. As he gave him the wreck, Carlos held out his hands to show that he had nothing in them. At that point, he didn’t know whether or not Omar was armed, or whether or not the two men formed an alliance. So Carlos surrendered without knowing what the Moros would do or where they would take him. He was courageously silly and didn’t know where they would take him, and he certainly didn’t what he achieved by giving up the wrecked junk. He didn’t know what he was doing. He didn’t see the consequences. How could he have seen the consequences? He couldn’t see the future. And what sort of man would take his chances and surrender when he didn’t have to?

But it worked out because the three men needed each other. And Mahmud should be praised for his navigation ability. He could predict a storm and find his way by observing wind and water. By simply dipping a finger in the sea, he could tell when they would get where they were going. May he continue to find guidance from sea and sky and rely more on instinct than on spirits he found everywhere around him. He used stars and knew each island. Omar marveled at how little Carlos knew about sailing.

Similar to a window shade, Mahmud unrolled an enormous sail from two poles. As he hauled up the top boon, his wife reduced dead weight by lifting it. This was done with the greatest amount of efficiency. While this was done, Landing asked to be fed. This journey, as well as the rescue, forever linked these three men. Called “utang na loob” or internal debt, it was a debt that could never be measured or repaid.

As they sailed north parallel of 5’ degrees 46′, north and near meridian 120 degrees 46′ east, between and close to islands with names such as Tonkil, Balangingi, Simisa, Tatlan, Bukytwa, Balim, and Bangalow, Mahmud fished from his boat. He still fished though he had a destination. He continued to fish while great tides of conflict swirled around them. Especially then, with piracy and competition between nations such as Britain, Holland, and Portugal, and the greater threat of Spain.

Then they came close enough to hear a gun announce morning. Then moments of tranquility. Fire set to one of many vintas signaled the start of a raid. “Hay Moros en la cosa” were dreadful cries that meant an attack had begun. As Carlos, Mahmud, and Carlos watched, hundreds of Moros climbed aboard a surrounded Spanish ship. The three were unarmed, and thus shied away. Across Sibutu passage, passed Bangao, Tawi Tawi, Siasi, on to Jolo they sailed.

Randy Ford

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Filed under El Conquistador, Randy’s 2nd Novel

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