David Emery

A bear lies dead twenty feet away, its entrails strewn and sinking crimson into the snow, bits of fur still clinging to the shorn corpse. Ortega wears the skin of the animal as he finishes digging a deep refuge from the Arctic winds into an expanding mound at the edge of a clearing. The drifts on either side grasp at the row of pine trees with a sense of physical desperation. The wind whips and turns, and his unkempt moustache collects smaller pieces of hail as the tears in the corners of his eyes freeze and break.

When he fences, Ortega defends himself with Capo Ferro's technique. It was Capo Ferro who made the observation that art regulates nature, making up for its imperfections through constant practice. If only Ortega could wield his ancient rapier against the snow, now collecting in the lips of his rotting leather boots, and make nature subservient the way trade will enslave the natives. This country will be built by Spanish capital despite Colbert's asinine opinions concerning colonization. All is won by the effective stroke of a well-crafted blade.

The Spaniard works hard, yet remains on constant alert for his sworn enemy. His first mistake was leaving Fuentes for dead on the deck of the Inverosímil, bound back from America for Spain with gold in tow. The elder Fuentes, also on board and riddled with scurvy, was easily dispatched. One swift thrust to the heart of his son and Ortega would never have known the relentless thirst of his seemingly unstoppable pursuer. The strength within Fuentes to heal seemed inhuman; he had been on Ortega's trail since Hudson's Bay. It was a late afternoon a mere two weeks after his arrival at Fort Prince of Wales when Ortega had caught sight of Fuentes bartering with a group of Cree at the back of a supply hut. His head was shaven, and his gaze glowed in the shadows of a sunset, reaching from a darkness different from that of the savages surrounding him. Ortega had never felt a fear of such magnitude, as if he were looking into the eyes of death itself. It was the look Fuentes' father had given him when the old conquistador's breath could no longer flow quickly enough to accommodate the wound in his breast.

He will smell the blood of the animal, Ortega thinks. A trap is called for. After resting Ortega plans to clear the snow and force a hole deep into the earth that he will cover with the skin. With his serenity flown along with the soul of his father, Fuentes will not take cautious steps. Revenge is the enemy of anger, not its accomplice.

Ortega chuckles at the foolishness of honour-bound men, always fattening themselves on their willingness to die.

His hovel routed perfectly, he gathers his mantle around his waist, bloody from the bearskin, staining his gloved hands black at the wrists. The soft walls of the frigid dugout hardening under the weight of his body beg him to adjust his position; when comfortable, he closes his eyes and formulates his tempo for the battle, imagining himself parrying in rhythm to the relentless wind passing overhead, quelling its intensity. His imagination acts so vividly that his feet kick, jolting him out of an approaching slumber, but soon the shifting determination halts and Ortega is asleep.


He awakens to the call of Fuentes on the opposite side of the clearing. It is the bestial cry of a wounded killer. "¡Usted morirá por la espada de mi padre!"

Ortega slowly raises his head and stares into the blackened, boundless void of the Arctic. He coughs and a warm liquid pours from his lungs, spraying upon his chin, and he cannot see it but he is sure that even Fuentes can taste it from where he stands in the invisible distance. Ortega crawls and fumbles at the hilt of his rapier, the point scratching along his calf, filling the crevices of his face with the numb impression of a wince. At last he is on his feet in the darkness. He cries, "¡Mi hermano! Enough! Put your sword at your side and embrace your enemy. La avería del mundo no pertenece a mí."

There is silence. Only now does Ortega recognize that the wind had ceased. He feels utterly alone and at the point of death. Drunk with sickness, he begins to stumble forward, and continues until his boot strikes an immovable object directly in his path. The surprise causes his heart to leap. Composing himself, he bends to examine more closely the obstruction, and the smell of frozen blood reaches his nostrils. The bear. Straightening his body, he calls to Fuentes once more. "We are wild in this land, are we not, amigo?"

He wipes at his chin with two fingers, smiling to himself. However, the smile quickly fades as a peculiar thought reaches the front of his mind. His arms are moving freely, without the former restraint he had become accustomed to.

Ortega realizes that the skin of the animal has been taken from him.

The wind resumes, but it is his own wind, driven from his body by a collision taking him completely off his guard on the right shoulder. The awkwardness of the blow causes Ortega to trip and fall to the ground, a ground that gives way, a skin that envelopes him, covering him entirely until his head strikes the true earth seconds beyond expectation. His consciousness fleeing, Ortega strains to afford himself a view from the bottom of a freshly emptied hole in the tundra. An explosion of tinder ignites a stem attached to the mouth of his enemy, breathing in the painful air with the heat of tobacco aflame. In that momentary revelation of flame he witnesses that gaze that had burned itself into his memory, eyes as dark as the forever unseen, looking now into his escaping spirit. An exhale, then a voice. The last voice, the last words Ortega will hear in his life.

"Aquí somos las bestias que se reclinan en espera."

Here we are the beasts that lie in wait.

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