The match was tied at four games apiece when I looked up and saw the priest talking to Esteban's navigator, Luke Foxe. He was a strange looking fellow. Oh, he wore the clothing of a priest, but his face was too dark and his cheekbones too high to be a Spaniard or a Basque. He was a forlorn looking man with a black mongrel of a dog for a companion that seemed as forlorn as he.
"Who's that?" I pointed with my chin.
Esteban looked up. He too was catching his breath. Esteban was younger than I, but his time as a whaling captain and successful merchant had made him more portly.
Esteban smiled. "Father Amancio. He will be quite an asset on our expedition to Greenland."
"Not when I win the next game, Esteban. Then it is back to Cartegena for me. You promised."
He laughed. "Indeed I did, dear cousin Antonio. As did you. And if I win the game, you join us on our adventure to the north lands."
I shuddered. The last thing I wanted was to journey to a land of cold, dark and ice. But if this was the way to settle my debt . . .
I should have stayed in Cartegena.
I had moved there in 1630 after my dispensation from the pope, Urban VIII. But lady luck, or God, had smiled on me and my gambling had finally earned me a handsome sum. Early in 1632 a coin flip had decided my next destination: heads, Mexico, tails, San Sebastian to pay my respects to my family and perhaps do some traveling in France and Germany before returning to the New World.
It was in San Sebastian that I met my cousin, Esteban Egui-o. One night melancholy (and strong drink) got the better of me and I told Esteban the story of how I had secretly been his father's cabin boy in 1603 and stolen five hundred pesos from him before jumping ship in Nombre de Dios in Panama. At first Esteban merely laughed, but then his scheming brain decided to rope me into the plans of his new patrons, the Dutch banker, Balthasar Coymans, and the industrialist, Louis de Geer.
I resisted of course. But Esteban played me like a fish, and eventually I agreed to help him. I blame my sense of honor. For decades I had felt guilty about stealing from my uncle. But still, I was a wily fish, and I agreed to do only part of Esteban's bidding. The rest of it was negotiable. Thus the pelota match.
Esteban smiled at me. "My serve I believe?"
I tossed him the ball. "And none of your tricks this time, Esteban. Play by the rules!"
Esteban laughed and served.
We were playing the classical version, of course, partido. The first person to win five games, each game to seven points. Our front wall was the back of a church, the side wall the back of the church's brewery. We had started to draw a crowd after the sixth game, and a number of bookmakers were in the crowd. Along with a few tittering whores and the young bucks who were chasing them.
Esteban had used the pause well and reeled off three straight points before I got the serve. We were both tired by then, the crowd was getting more raucous, and we both wanted nothing more but to finish and go quench our thirst in the tavern a block away.
But we were both honorable. Neither of us gave an inch and we fought like lions in the afternoon sun.
Finally the score was tied at six apiece and Esteban's serve came at me. I'd seen this one before and had positioned myself well. It was then that the whores' cries broke my concentration.
"Miss, Catalina. Miss it!"
I missed. Esteban threw his arms up in triumph, then around me.
"A match well-played Antonio, well-played indeed!"
"Except for the last point," I grumbled.
The crowd began to disperse and Foxe and Father Amancio came forward. Esteban introduced me to the priest.
"Antonio, Father Amancio. Father Amancio, Antonio de Erauso, my cousin. A true adventurer who will be joining us on our expedition to the northlands."
I clasped Father Amancio's arm. He had strong hands. "A pleasure to meet you, Father."
"And you, Antonio de Erauso. So you are an adventurer?"
I shrugged modestly. "I have been a few places, I admit."
Esteban laughed. "A few! Father, there is no stone Antonio has left unturned in all of South America, especially in Peru and Chile! His exploits are famous!"
We had begun to move down the street towards the tavern, and one of the two whores still leaning against a wall, perhaps emboldened by the three young bucks she was trying to attract, called out to me.
"Se-ora Catalina, where are you going? Feeling lonesome tonight?"
"My dear whores," I said, drawing my blade, turning to face them, "I have come to give fifty strokes to your bottom and a hundred gashes to any man who would defend your honor." I advanced on them slowly.
Terrified, the harlots ran away, their bucks in tow.
Esteban grinned as they rounded the corner. "So fierce, Antonio! You have quite a temper, my dear cousin!"
I snorted. It was true, of course.
I turned to Father Amancio. "Sorry about that, Father. I have a certain notoriety in San Sebastian."
Father Amancio nodded. "I had not made the connection until the . . . uh, young lady had spoken. You are the famous transvestite, Catalina de Erauso, then?"
My smile was a thin smile, I admit, but a smile none the less. "Call me Antonio, Father. My life as Catalina ended long ago."
The priest looked at me thoughtfully, then smiled himself. "Of course, Antonio. And, if you would permit, let me offer to buy the first drink to ease the pain of your loss at pelota."
One maxim I had always lived by was to never turn down a free drink. I nodded graciously.
"Onward, my friends," Esteban said, putting his arms around my shoulder and Father Amancio's, "We have a night of drinking, plans, and stories ahead of us!"
The tavern was cool and dark. The owner, Manuel Ortega, escorted us to our usual corner table. Within minutes we were slaking our thirst on Manuel's beer. Rosalita, Manuel's wife, brought out bowls of stew and loaves of bread.
It was an hour before conversation got around to the topic of Grantville.
"So you have actually been to Grantville, Se-or Foxe?" Father Amancio asked.
Luke nodded. "For three months. An intensive course of study set up for me by De Geer's niece, Colette Modi. Geology, mostly. But mathematics and geography as well. And as much as they had on Greenland, which wasn't a lot."
"So they aren't devils as some in the Church would have us assume?"
Luke laughed. "Not at all, Father. Except for the vehicles and roads, you might just think it to be an odd little German town, especially now that the German population outnumbers the original Americans."
He shook his head. "No, what is most startling about Grantville is the information you glean from their libraries and from just talking to the American residents. It is then that you truly start to believe that they come from the future . . . or some future."
"Some future?" I asked. "Not ours?"
Luke shrugged. "How could it be from our future? With the arrival of Grantville everything they knew about their past is changing, and changing rapidly. In Grantville's history Gustavus Adolphus died this past November, and there is nothing in their history books about the formation of the CPE with him as the emperor."
Esteban smiled and leaned in toward the center of the table, motioning us to do likewise. The tavern was beginning to fill now, and while the noise level had risen, it was still possible to understand conversations from other tables nearby.