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Collection II
Volume II, Unit 1
by Jackson Galan

A Calculated Expedition

A Calculated Expedition (Volume II. Unit 1)
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A Calculated Expedition

A calculated expedition begins at dawn; we set out at the arbitrary"A calculated expedition begins at dawn; we set out at the arbitrary time of after lunch. Such haphazardness characterized our entire journey..." time of after lunch.

Such haphazardness characterized our entire journey, and it was mostly thanks to dumb luck that we made it anywhere at all. The members of our expedition were not experienced explorers, and they were not driven by love of wonder or adventure, but by pure avarice"... they were not driven by love of wonder or adventure, but by pure avarice; they knew that they wanted gold..."; they knew that they wanted gold, and assumed it would simply fall into their open hands. Strangely enough, it did.

If you had looked our expedition leader in the eye that afternoon, you would’ve seen imminent"If you had looked our expedition leader in the eye that afternoon, you would've seen imminent doom; yet disaster always felt so close in the presence of Captain Francisco Rellenos." doom; yet disaster always felt so close in the presence of Captain Francisco Rellenos. He was a formidable"He was a formidable man, sure—imposing stature, stately gait, a thing and serious mouth..." man, sure—imposing stature, stately gait, a thin and serious mouth—but a wild flicker danced behind his pupils, giving off a subtly perceptible air of insanity. Not only did he have the standard delusions"Not only did he have the standard delusions about money (for most men foolishly believe that happiness is for sale), but when gold was involved, he became deniably deranged." about money (for most men foolishly believe that happiness is for sale), but when gold was involved, he became undeniably deranged.

And he was headstrong, even for a conquistador. Intractable"And he was headstrong, even for a conquistador. Intractable to all, even himself, his uncontrollable nature had gotten him into trouble back in Spain." to all, even himself, his uncontrollable nature had gotten him into trouble back in Spain. Once, at a banquet feast on the day of St. Christopher, he threw a cut of glazed ham like a discus, from one end of the table to the other, having it land squarely on the flabbergasted face of a fairly respected governess. A member of the High Court was present, and asked Rellenos to exculpate"... [Rellenos] threw a cut of a glazed ham like a discus... having it land squarely on the flabbergasted face of a fairly respected governess. A member of the High Court was present, and asked Rellenos to exculpate himself, 'or at least give us some idea as to why you’ve committed such a gross act!' " himself, “or at least give us some idea as to why you’ve committed such a gross act!” Rellenos replied, “Why, even from across the table she smelled positively acrid" 'Why, even from across the table she smelled positively acrid. Not wanting our party to suffer such a stinging irritation, I supplied a touch of roast pig, to freshen her up!' ". Not wanting our party to suffer such a stinging irritation, I supplied a touch of roast pig, to freshen her up!”

Undoubtedly, it was for such scandalous conduct that his Spanish acquaintances first ostracized"Undoubtedly, it was for such scandalous conduct that his Spanish acquaintances first ostracized [Rellenos] and shipped him out of the country, off to South America in search of a solid-gold city." him and shipped him out of the country, off to South America in search of a solid-gold city. Bet they never thought he’d find it.


Rellenos demanded that I join his expedition because the horses
would not enter the jungle unless I led them.

Illustration by Teresa Murphy

I do not know why he conjectured"I do not know why he conjectured that we should begin our expedition by heading through the jungles north of Puetzlan, but I can’t believe his guesswork was based on any good reason." that we should begin our expedition by heading through the jungles north of Puetzlan, but I can’t believe his guesswork was based on any good reason. The general rule among my people was to avoid this treacherous terrain at all costs. Most of us wanted him gone, and if I had not been a captive member of his company, I’d have been overjoyed to see him dive into that death-trap jungle on his mad quest.

Perhaps I should explain why I was a part of the company at all. While most of my village was cold or hostile towards Rellenos and his men, I was amiable"While most of my village was cold or hostile towards Rellenos and his men, I was amiable and agreeable. My friendly nature made me a favorite of the Captain..." and agreeable. My friendly nature made me a favorite of the Captain, and I ingratiated"My friendly nature made me a favorite of the captain, and I ingratiated myself with all the Spaniards, hoping that if they took a liking to me, then my family or I might be spared some rude injustice." myself with all the Spaniards, hoping that if they took a liking to me, then my family or I might be spared some rude injustice. Our people knew to expect violence from the Spanish, and Rellenos was no friendly anomaly"Our people knew to expect violence from the Spanish, and Rellenos was no friendly anomaly; I believe that history will show the conquistadors to be a less than gentle breed."; I believe that history will show the conquistadors to be a less than gentle breed.

Even if I did not genuinely like them, they certainly felt some special affection for me. They called all the other boys of the village chico, but me they called garçon.

While my friendliness and ability to speak Spanish accounted for part of my selection to the company, it was mostly my skill with horses that got me attached. Ever since I first laid eyes on these majestic beasts, I’ve felt a special understanding with them. They may not be the most rational of creatures, but they seem to possess an intrinsic judiciousness"They may not be the most rational of creatures, but they seem to possess an intrinsic judiciousness, an internal common sense.", an internal common sense. Rellenos demanded that I join his expedition because the horses would not enter the jungle unless I led them. Why would they want to? After all, what use has a horse for gold?

* * *

So we dove into the jungle, and after two days of aimless wandering, the first man died: gored to death by a boar. Rellenos tried to bolster"So we dove into the jungle, and after two days of aimless wandering, the first man died.... Rellenos tried to bolster the company's spirits. 'More gold for us! And greater glory!' he exclaimed..." the company’s spirits. “More gold for us! And greater glory!” he exclaimed, flashing a crooked smile around the group. Still, our faces remained sullen, and our eyes on guard for boars.

Though I knew it the moment we left the village, it was on the fifth day that the rest of the company realized we were lost. Rellenos’s totally obsolete"Rellenos's totally obsolete map, drawn over a century ago, seemed to be sending us in—if not exactly a circle—some kind of endless loop." map, drawn over a century ago, seemed to be sending us in—if not exactly a circle—some kind of endless loop. Panic began set in.

Rellenos soldiered on with no particular plan. He claimed his compass defunct"He claimed his compass defunct ('This thick jungle air has confounded its magnets!') and refused to use it." (“This thick jungle air has confounded its magnets!”) and refused to use it. He shot one man for asking if we’d seen that tree before. He shot another for looking curiously at the body of the first, as we passed it four hours later.

And then it happened. At sundown on the sixth day we crested a particularly steep mountain, and at its summit, heaving with exhaustion and delirious from lack of food, we gazed upon the glimmering rooftops. The sun on the opposite end of the valley lit the golden roads like a fire, and at the center towered a massive temple, almost as bright as the sun itself. Through beads of sweat my eyes saw an illusory"Through beads of sweat my eyes saw an illusory oasis, a mirage in the midst of a tropical jungle." oasis, a mirage in the midst of a tropical jungle.

We descended as the sun set, tumbling out-of-breath down the mountainside and into the golden basin. By the time we reached level ground the sky had turned a dim violet, and the men—even at the gates of this magnificent wonder of the world, unglimpsed for a thousand years—did not have the fortitude"... the sky had turned a dim violet, and the men... did not have the fortitude to keep their eyelids open. It was clear: most o the remaining crew were hours from death..." to keep their eyelids open. It was clear: most of the remaining crew were hours from death, and the rest weren’t doing much better. Even I, the heartiest of the bunch, gave in to the weariness in my soles, thinking, ‘It will be there tomorrow,’ and fell asleep on the soft earth beside the city walls. The last thing I saw before my eyelids dropped was one man standing perfectly straight. The Captain, shoulders pulled back and drawing deep, heavy breaths, stared at the center of the city, where, on the high point of the temple, gleamed the final rays of daylight.

That night I dreamt of a vast, dark plain, soulless and desolate, filled only with the sound of a hideous laugh and the piercing, pungent"That night I dreamt of a vast, dark plain, soulless and desolate, filled only with the sound of a hideous laugh and the piercing, pungent aroma of rotting wood." aroma of rotting wood. I tried to run across the wilderness, but a thick sand hampered"I tried to run across the wilderness, but a thick sand hampered my movement, and I felt as if I was putting forth the greatest effort only to stumble through nothingness." my movement, and I felt as if I was putting forth the greatest effort only to stumble through nothingness. The cackling grew deafeningly loud in the infinite darkness and I was shot from sleep.

In the black distance: a faint giggle.

Disoriented, I groped through the darkness for a candle, and mistakenly patted the neck of my sleeping horse. He woke with a start, as if from his own bad dream, and pricked his ears at the sound of laughter, this time just a bit louder.

I mounted my steed and made haste to the temple. We followed a faint glow emanating from its uppermost chamber. By the time I reached the temple steps the laughter had become clear and constant. I recognized it as the anguished fit of a duplicitous"I recognized [the laughter] as the anguished fit of a duplicitous man, one whose grin is never a sign of happiness." man, one whose grin is never a sign of happiness. There could only be one man in that chamber. I climbed the steps, and in the flickering middle room found our company leader, Captain Francisco Rellenos.

Garçon! Good to see you, my boy!” he roared, not looking up. He stood hunched over a long golden dining table, the kind used for holiday feasts. With his hands gripping either side, he gazed down upon an iron skillet, mounted above a dancing flame. Beside the fire lay the statuette of an ancient falcon god, about the size of my forearm. Rellenos had cleaved off its head, and I looked up to see the last vestiges of its beak dissolve into a shallow pool on the skillet. The mad captain looked at me. I could see the golden pool reflected in his eyes.

He began to speak, his voice booming, and confident. Yet his words were contradictory, discordant"He began to speak, his voice booming, and confident. Yet his words were contradictory, discordant unto themselves."unto themselves. The delusions of this misguided man spilled forth in the depths of the temple.

“Wealth, garçon,” he said, shaking a finger above his feathered cap, “I have had wealth. I have known the heights of luxury; simply look where I stand now! Can any man claim to be more wealthy than I? With all the riches of the world beneath my very feet?”

He paused to point a rapacious boot tip at the table above, then let the heel hit the dusty floor with a thud.

“Let me tell you something,” he said, and stood up, still gripping the table. “Even the wealthy man may lead a mundane" 'Even the wealthy man may lead a mundane life. The riches of the upper class afford even less excitement than the poverty of the peasants.' " life. The riches of the upper class afford even less excitement than the poverty of the peasants.”

“But there is a difference!” cried the captain, “between wealth, and gold.”

He looked deep into the bubbling, glittering puddle in his skillet. I stood there, dumbstruck.

“Wealth,” he said, “is for the fool, the man who only values this fleeting, material world. One day, garçon, these mortal eyes will go blind. But the luster of gold is not offal for ocular gluttony! Indeed! For, of the truly virtuous man, every pore may feel the shine!”

And with these words, Rellenos poured the molten gold into an iron chalice and drank its contents in one vigorous gulp.

I fled the temple, hurtling down the steps. Onto my horse I sprang and sped from El Dorado, fleeing the dying company, stealing covertly"I fled the temple, hurtling down the steps. Onto my horse I sprang and sped from El Dorado, fleeing the dying company, stealing covertly away under the cover of night." away under the cover of night.