Title: Children of the Sun
Fandom: Mysterious Cities of Gold
Warnings: Discussion of sexuality of underage characters
Children of the Sun
He did not know at first why Tao wanted them to be so quiet. The older boy had gestured to him a few minutes ago, and Esteban had risen from the rock he’d been sitting upon and followed Tao as he wended his way through the boulders and short trees and cactus that had made up their landscape these last weeks.
“What is it?” he’d asked when he’d finally caught up, and Tao had smiled. “Is it the Olmecs?
“You’ll see,” Tao had said, but he didn’t have that air of danger about him that Esteban had seen all too frequently. It seemed to him that Tao was more excited than anything else.
They rounded a ridge to discover an oasis of sorts: a stream running through the rock and pooling long enough to permit a denser growth of bushes around it. Tao put a finger to his lips and a hand on Esteban’s shoulder and they crouched behind the scraggly bushes and still Esteban didn’t know why they were there.
It looked like Zia, in her tunic, was doing her laundry.
This was not remarkable in itself. Girls liked to be clean, after all, and even Esteban liked a chance to slough off some of the sweat that made his shirt stick to him all the time. If he really was a Child of the Sun, he thought, he wouldn’t feel so hot all the time. But Tao was watching Zia with rapt attention, they way he’d looked when they’d first found the golden condor.
“That’s just Zia,” he said, and Tao furiously hushed him. But the babble of water over rock left her unaware of their presence and she continued with her task, humming lightly to herself a song Esteban remembered from home. She probably didn’t realize she was humming it, he thought, or she would be angry to be singing a Spanish tune.
And then she drew her dress over her head. The sun, which made Pedro and Sancho turn red and curse whenever they lay down to sleep, greeted her skin like an old friend. She seemed to glow. Esteban hadn’t ever thought about what might be under her clothes. She’d been wearing the same dress since they met and it was as much a part of her as the gold medallion that still lay at the base of her neck. Below that, her chest was thin and her stomach hollow but there was the faintest hint of the roundness of womanhood to come, and below that there lay dark hair Esteban had never imagined would be there.
She did not look at all like him. Or Tao.
Zia turned and bent over to wet her long hair, and when she tossed it back it streamed down her back, free of its plaits, the water running down her golden skin and past her behind. A behind that looked much like Esteban or Tao’s but was having a much different effect on him.
Something was wrong, Esteban realized. Something was wrong with him. He tugged on Tao’s sleeve.
“Tao,” he whispered anxiously, and Tao looked down at him, at where he was looking, and his shoulders shook silently in laughter. Esteban looked up and Tao’s face was sympathetic and amused.
“It’s fine, Esteban,” he whispered back. “It’s normal.”
The crackling of twigs under his own shifting feet brought Esteban up short, his body frozen in place despite the hot dry wind that chased him through the mesquite bushes and the fierce trembling that wanted to take hold. A hand descended on his shoulder but it was the wrong side for Tao.
“What is it?” Mendoza asked them. Esteban hadn’t heard him approach, but that was why Mendoza was still alive. That’s what he always said, anyway. Mendoza followed their gazes to the girl in the pool, and chuckled. “And here I thought you’d caught sight of Gomez or something. A puma, at the very least.” He looked at Esteban and Tao in turn, then back to Zia. Esteban had spent enough time with Mendoza to know the man was amused. At him. He didn’t like that.
“What’s so funny?” he demanded, and Mendoza’s smile softened.
“Come with me, Esteban. I think Zia’s about finished, here.” Mendoza turned and walked silently back the way they had come, and Esteban followed even though Mendoza did not turn to make sure he was doing so. Tao followed even though he had not been invited or even, for that matter, looked at.
When they rounded one of the larger boulders and were within sight of camp, Mendoza dropped to the ground in an easy crouch. The two boys followed suite. “I take it Zia has no idea you two were there.”
“Why were you laughing, Mendoza?” Esteban asked, determined not to be distracted from his primary concern.
Mendoza’s sun-darkened skin crinkled about the eyes. “I was not laughing at you, Esteban. Merely remembering what it was like when I was your age. Of course, it was a barmaid in Málaga in a back storeroom, but I think I can understand well enough.”
“Oh,” said Esteban, because now he understood even less. “I’m sorry we were spying on her. I didn’t mean anything…” He stopped, because he didn’t want to get Tao in trouble, and wasn’t sure what he was in trouble for.
Mendoza laughed again, out loud this time. “You didn’t do anything wrong, Esteban. And I’m sure Tao talked you into it. I thought I’d have to do this sooner or later. Esteban, you know about the difference between men and women, don’t you?” Esteban nodded. “Do you know what those differences are for?” He nodded again, but Mendoza could see that he did not, and proceeded to enlighten him about the procedure.
Esteban gazed down at his hands as the words flowed over and through him. That’s what it meant? That’s what he was supposed to do? With Zia? He remembered, now, some talk he’d heard on the ship among the sailors, and before that he recalled some sights back in town he could not explain. But he hadn’t ever thought of Zia like that. He was supposed to protect her. What was this traitorous body he now had?
“But Esteban,” Mendoza was saying, “don’t put too much store in what you do with someone like Zia. She’s a brave girl, and quite fetching, but you must always remember where you came from, and what kind of woman ought to bear your children.”
Children? Esteban stared up at Mendoza, unable even to form a question. It was all moving too fast for him. Something stirred beside him.
“And what kind of woman is that?” Tao asked, his voice lower than normal. Esteban looked at him and he was reminded of a stalking cat. “I noticed you didn’t warn me to keep to my own kind. Is it because I’m the last one, or because I’m no better than her? Perhaps you should tell Esteban it’s alright to have his fun with me, as well, as long as he finds a good Spanish woman to cook and clean for him!”
“Tao, I don’t expect you to understand—“ And then Mendoza blinked once at Tao’s retreating back before he looked back at Esteban. “It is the way of the world,” he said as he stood, his cloak shrugged back over his shoulders. “Unless you want to end up like me, take my advice.”
Esteban watched him walk away as he waited for Zia to come back. He could not think of any better fate than to be Mendoza.