23 - Streets of Gold

The story of a Spanish conquistador who arrives in the New World as a young man, and spends the rest of his life searching for a mythical city made entirely out of gold.

Pedro is a conquistador, and a new arrival in the New World. He’s proud of himself for making it there as a soldier rather than as a servant, despite his youth. However, he’s still looked down on by many of the other conquistadores, precisely because of his youth.

Everyone is impressed by the New World. It just feels wilder, more dangerous. Pedro in particular is awed; just by looking around, you can see how little hold civilization has here. There will be plenty of opportunity for him to serve his country and establish colonies.

Some of the other conquistadores start picking on him, but are stopped by Francisco, a legendary conquistador, one of the first to come to the new world. Francisco insists on absolute equality among the conquistadores - even to the point of disregarding his own rank. He tells them that the New World is a strict meritocracy - the qualified survive, and the unqualified don’t. Everything else is just useless posturing.

Pedro kind of takes himself under Francisco’s wing - Francisco isn’t really one for mentoring. But Pedro’s desire to learn earns him some respect, and Francisco teaches him about the way of things there. Foremost among those is equality and loyalty - you need to be able to count on your brothers in arms, no matter what, and they need to be able to count on you.

Pedro notices that Francisco views non-conquistadores as somewhat less important and more expendable, but it doesn’t bother him - you do what you have to in order to survive.

What really gets Pedro on Francisco’s good side is when he asks about the legendary city of gold. The idea of finding it - and the glory that would go along with that - is what drew him to being a conquistador in the first place. Francisco reveals that he, too, longs to find the city of gold - in fact, he was one of the ones to first learn of it. He tells Pedro what little he knows about its location, and Pedro tells him the rumors in Spain - some of which are actually new and helpful to Francisco.

Francisco wants to go out and quest for it, but warns Pedro that there are more immediate concerns; many have died because they sought the city above all else. At the moment, there is a nearby city that is being slowly overwhelmed by rebels and enemies of pain, and it is their duty to save it.

They go save the village from its oppressors, but after saving it, turn into somewhat of oppressors themselves. Francisco insists that the villagers owe them their lives, and in exchange they must give everything they can in help of Spain.

One of the villagers hears Francisco talking to Pedro about the city of gold, and tells them he knows how to find it - not where it is, but how to find it. He gives them an esoteric set of instructions, and the general location of a valley where they can begin their search. They leave at once.

Once they reach the general vicinity of where the villager told them to go, Francisco finds a nearby village and establishes his men there, effectively conquering it. He demands the villagers give them food and quarter, in exchange for the protection of the conquistadores. The villagers can’t really say no.

The villagers quickly learn that the path to survival is in pleasing the conquistadores, and a number of them, especially children, start volunteering as servants in exchange for the occasional shared meal or foreign treasure.

Pedro in particular practically adopts a young orphan girl that he dubs Chloe, after he has difficulty pronouncing her real name. Chloe is quiet, but after Pedro shares his food with her, fiercely loyal, and she knows the area surprisingly well.

Chloe in particular proves invaluable as they begin scouring the area for signs of the city of gold. More than once she finds their way back after they’ve gotten lost, or warns them of nearby wild animals.

As their journeys prove increasingly fruitless, Francisco gets more and more agitated and tyrannical. He views the villagers’ ignorance of the city of gold as rebellion; of course they know about it, they just aren’t saying anything, and that’s as good as treason! He can’t very well execute the entire village, but he can make life worse for them, taking more of their food and belongings, and forcing them to lead his men further and further from their homes.

Pedro would be just as upset as Francisco, but Chloe grounds him a little in the villagers’ struggles. He believes her when she says she doesn’t know anything about the city, and if she doesn’t, surely it’s possible that nobody else does, too? After all, she knows the surrounding jungle like the back of her hand.

Pedro tries to convince Francisco of the possibility that the city is a secret even to the village, but he refuses to accept that as a possibility. In fact, he’s starting to wonder if Pedro isn’t in on the whole charade; maybe he’s waiting until Francisco gives up in disgrace, because he wants all the glory for himself?

Francisco seizes Chloe, and tells her that she will lead him to the city, or die. When Pedro tries to stop him, he has the other conquistadores imprison him in a makeshift jail for insubordination.

Pedro shares his “cell” - actually a converted house - with a dozen of the villagers, all of them imprisoned for petty or imaginary infractions. He starts to get an idea of what he and his companions have done to these poor people.

He organizes his fellow prisoners, and orchestrates a breakout. He distracts the conquistadores guarding him while some of the prisoners climb out of a window and jump them. They inadvertently spur on a massive riot, with the entire village rising up against the conquistadores.

Pedro grabs a sword and runs into the woods, chasing desperately after Francisco and Chloe.

He shouts for her as he runs. He hears her shout back, and then scream. He runs to her, but it’s too late; she’s been stabbed, and is bleeding out.

He holds her as she dies. Francisco sneaks up behind him, but Chloe is able to warn him.

Pedro and Francisco fight. It’s rough, but Pedro kills Francisco. By the time he has, though, Chloe is dead.

He wanders off into the jungle alone.