Fool’s Gold

Tibes, Puerto Rico ©2016 Ronald C. Flores-Gunkle

By Ronald C. Flores-Gunkle

Borikén/Puerto Rico, Sometime after 1508

Abeyno was no fool. He had heard the stories about the hairy strangers who came by sea. He knew that arrows were almost useless against them, and he knew why. He watched them as they emerged from their shiny metal shells to bathe in the shallow waters at the beach. They were just men, ugly men, and one beardless boy. Any one of them would kill him as quickly as the savage Caribs would.

Abeyno was no boy. He was almost a man. His arms were strong and his aim was true. His father taught him well. The sky grew darker as he thought about his family, the plants along the path seemed wet with tears. He did not cry. He reached the copse of trees and grass that gave upon the beach, invisible.

That morning the strangers had marched in a single file to his village just as his Taíno tribe was beginning the duties of the day: ten creatures in their carapaces, odd-colored eyes peering from sweaty faces, swords jostling on their hips. Abeyno smelled them before he saw them. They did not see him, less than a shadow, hidden in a tree.

He was not afraid, even as a monster as large as a man filed by, sniffing the path, growling and flashing huge teeth in his direction. The boy who was leading it yelled at the animal in a strange language. The dog obeyed.

Abeyno had watched in horror, transfixed, before escaping to Chief Jumacao’s camp. “The strangers marched like gods into the center of our village,” he told the neighboring tribesmen. “Five of them stood shoulder to shoulder in a line before our chief’s hut. Five others, back to back, faced the tribe. Their leader took a step forward, addressed the chief and yelled a word in their language, “gold.” Our chief remained seated, as is the custom with honored guests. In our language, he welcomed them.

“The stranger shouted the word again, pointing at the gold guarín, the disk that hung from his neck. Our chief rose and slowly raised his arm in friendship. With one swift movement the stranger unsheathed his shining weapon, severed the outstretched arm as if it were a reed and tore the guarín from our chief even as he fell, his blood and his life returning to the earth.

“My father and the other tribesmen quickly drew their bows and released a volley of arrows. Though their aim was good, the arrows failed. The strangers were like stones. Then, after a sign from their leader, the strangers raised their swords and marched shoulder to shoulder, slaughtering the men that attacked them, then the women behind them, then the children behind them.

“After the massacre the blood and sweat-drenched strangers laughed and cheered. They freed themselves of their heavy armor and pillaged the village; all but the boy, who rested in the shadow of a hut, embracing his pet. He heard a cry. At the boy’s command his dog raced into the jungle and returned dragging a screaming infant by the arm. When the boy yelled “kill,” the monster ripped the child apart.”

Abeyno learned two words that day, “gold” and “kill.” But he also learned that the strangers without their silver shells were mortal men, a lesson not lost on Jumacao’s men. They were with him, silent as spirits, behind the dunes, waiting to avenge the senseless slaughter.

The nearly naked strangers splashed and laughed in the water near the shore. A small boat was beached near them. Their armor, streaked with Taíno blood, was propped along a dune like sentinels.

The boy came out of the water, his thin pantaloons clinging to his legs, his hairless chest turgid from walking wet in the sand. He called his dog. The monster sniffed at the wind and raced up the dune where Abeyno was waiting. A single arrow pierced the mastiff’s head and lodged silently in his throat. The boy was next. Abeyno watched the boy’s blue eyes grow wide, then saw him grasp the arrow in his forehead as he fell face down in the sand.

It was over in a moment. Each Taíno took one stranger; nine men fell as one, their Castilian blood mixing with the golden sand of the Borinquen beach.

Ten rust-red rocks that some say resemble Spanish armor can be seen on that shore today — silent testimony to a long-forgotten victory.

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Author’s note:

This is the first in a series of stories about the “encounter of two worlds,” the genocide of the Taínos of Borikén (modern Puerto Rico) by the invading Spaniards in the 16th century. This tale is totally ficticious, but — as in almost all my writing — if it didn’t happen, it could have happened. The remaining tales in the series are based on incidents cited in the chronicles.