Although the sun was high, Bartolomeo found Cristoforo abed, his appearance alarming. The eye which had been slightly swollen when Bartolomeo left for the interior a fortnight ago was now engorged with blood, a color more notable for the pallidness of the face around it. Sweat beads lined his forehead, and a shivering permeated Cristoforo’s frame. Nonetheless, he would not be dissuaded from rising.

“Welcome, brother,” he said, spreading his arms wide.

“My Lord Admiral,” Bartolomeo replied, bowing with a flourish. “Esteemed governor.”

“You mock me, sir.” The pair embraced with a laugh.

“How is it with you, sir? You look a fright.”

“Indeed,” Cristoforo said. He walked to the large desk across the room and with a swollen hand raised a gilded hand mirror to his face. “Still, I am improved these past two days.” He considered his image. “Not in appearance, perhaps, but I am on the mend.”

“I am heartily glad of that. ¡Viva el rey!

“I should cut out your treasonous tongue and present it to His Highness on my next return, you dog.”

“Then who would rule in your absence? Not Giacomo!”

They laughed together as Cristoforo maneuvered himself behind the desk and sat heavily. “Come,” he said, gesturing to the chair across from him, “tell me of your latest triumph. For I am sure you bring good news?”

“I do, thanks be to God. We have returned with nearly a hundred Indians, and gold besides. The information we compelled from the savages we took on our last foray proved valuable.”

“Slaves and gold both!”

Bartolomeo hesitated. “In truth, the amount of gold we obtained is modest. But the Indians we took are as fine as any we have run across. Finer.”

Cristoforo pawed thoughtfully at his unkempt beard. “Perhaps when put to it the savages you have brought will yield more intelligence concerning where larger quantities of gold may yet be obtained. We must not lose the king and queen’s good faith.”

“I am sure they will enlighten us in due time,” Bartolomeo nodded enthusiastically. “But for the nonce, put that matter aside. I have brought you a present.”

“A present?”

“Now, I confess,” said Bartolomeo, rising from his chair and walking toward the entryway, “my gift is not something new to you, but I hope its quality will make up for what it lacks in novelty. Juan, Esteban,” he called, “bring the governor’s gift.”

Cristoforo’s healthy eye grew wide as the men entered. Clutched between them was perhaps the most beautiful native he had yet beheld. Only the gold rings in her ears spoiled her nakedness. She was exceptionally tall for an Indian, and her immaculate brown skin tightly tapered to the curves of her hips and limbs. Her breasts were unusually large for one of her age, which could not have been above 15 years. Juan and Esteban held the captive roughly by each arm, although the girl did not struggle against them so much as stumble, instinctually rigid from terror as they dragged her forward.

“Brother,” Cristoforo effused, shakily rising from the desk and coming around to admire his newest possession, “she is indeed a wonder to behold.”

“Did I not tell you,” Bartolomeo said with pride. “And she is unsullied, of course—which, as you can imagine, I was able to preserve only on pain of death.”

“Indeed.” Cristoforo’s face was close as he smiled into her frightened visage, then at her heaving bosom. He touched her stomach, and instinctively she jerked backward.

“Pig,” Bartolomeo roared, pouncing forward and slapping the girl. He seized her jaw and brought his own face close. “That is your lord and master, and you will gratefully submit to his every whim!”

Although the girl did not speak their language, she grasped the import of the outburst. Cristoforo stepped backward and inspected her silently. He was beginning to sweat profusely, and mild tremors now took hold of his body. “You are a jewel,” he wheezed, “a dusky jewel.” The tremors increased, and two of the medallions about his neck clanked together in gentle rhythm. “Take her to the bed.”

The men did as instructed, throwing her down roughly. Esteban pointed to the bed, which the girl understood as a command to remain there. Satisfied, the men saluted the brothers and exited. “Of course, I will also take my leave of you now,” Bartolomeo said.

“A million thanks, brother.” They embraced. “This is quite a treasure you have presented me with.”

“You deserve nothing less. May she hasten your restoration to perfect health and satisfy your every appetite.”

“I will surely sup well tonight.”

They chuckled, then Bartolomeo left Cristoforo and the girl alone. She had partly covered herself with the loose bedding and warily watched him approach, a growing smile on his lips.

“Modesty,” he said when was upon her. “What a quaint creature you are!” He gently revealed her nakedness, coughing as his respiration deepened. He drew a hand along her naked shoulders, her neck, gently across the swelling redness where Bartolomeo had struck her. He gathered a handful of her black hair and turned her head back and forth as if he were working a marionette.

Suddenly, he released her and stepped backwards. As she looked up at him, into the pale blue eyes that probed deeply into hers, she was warmed by a spark of hope. She had heard of the terrible invaders. Everyone had. But her mother told her and her sisters the prophecy of the Kind Invader, the One who would come with mercy and shine the light of truth on His brutal brethren so that they would fall upon their knees and cry for forgiveness. They would bear their necks to the good people and praise the taking of their own lives. And when the good people chose to show mercy, the invaders would throw themselves at the feet of the good people and beg to serve them and their heirs for the remainder of the invaders’ unworthy lives. They would bow before the gods, theirs and the true ones, and beg for guidance, beg to be empty vessels filled by he will of the Divine and put to use for the good people they had so wronged. The gods would not forgive them; the gods could not forgive such evil. But the blinding light of the Kind Invader would transform them for the remainder of their time in this world and would burn away those who would come across the water in their stead.

The man removed his leggings, and as he mounted his chattel she was benumbed with heatless resignation. Her gaze turned heavenward, but the heavens were blocked from view by the stone ceiling of the invader’s bedchamber.