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Banners in the Mist:
a quarterly newsletter delving deep into the past

Short-short Stories   by Joyce Holt

historical fiction
(and sometimes historical-fantasy)
with an occasional dash of folklore retold

July 1, 2017     - - -     Volume 4 Number 3

Cargo and
    Koh-Lum-Boh


currency of the Caribbean
            in AD1502



      sketch by Vera B. Zimmerman
      Mazatl paddled madly for shore. The wind blowing astern toyed with him, for it gave greater aid to the vessel in pursuit-- a great shell skimming the waves with white wings outspread to catch the tiniest breeze.
      He saw no break in the wall of jungle ahead, no river mouth to give shelter. He veered his dugout to seek haven northwards.
      The wind-blown ship cut across his path.
      His dugout collided with its massive flank. Mazatl huddled amid- ships, trying to tame his fearful heart.
      Faces peered down at him from the rail above, faces pale as the wings that now folded beyond them. A vessel of ghosts!
      Ropes came whipping out. Ghosts slid down to land with solid thumps in the dugout. One held a silvery blade to Mazatl's throat, though the paddler had no thought of fight. Every muscle clenched in terror.
      The other figures-- not ghosts after all, not the way they made the dugout wallow with their weight-- they rummaged through Mazatl's belongings. Food for the journey, waterskins, a cloak. They found his cargo.
      They chattered at him then, like monkeys with deep voices, holding out the bags, demanding.
      Mazatl could do nothing but shake in fear.
      They went back up the ropes like spiders, taking his cargo. The last one lashed a rope around Mazatl's chest, and the ones above hauled him aboard, banging against wooden planks all the way up.
      No mistaking the chief of the ghosts, garbed in cloth of rich colors, glinting with silver. Mazatl bowed before the white-skinned personage, addressed by the others as Koh-Lum-Boh, a tall man with hair the color of maize and eyes as blue as the sea. The chief and his warriors showed no intent to devour Mazatl, as he had first feared. He dared to hope he might survive this encounter.
      The chief ordered the cargo bags opened.
      Mazatl's terror subsided. Merely thieves, these ghosts were! Somehow they had known the valuable cargo he carried and meant to--
      No, they looked puzzled. The chief took a handful from the bag, rolled in his fingers, sniffed, eyed the nuggets closely, then turned his gaze on his captive.
      More chattering Mazatl couldn't understand. He shrugged his bafflement.
      One cacao bean dropped to the deck and rolled aside.
      On impulse Mazatl grabbed for the kernel, worth a tomato or tamale in the market at Yucatan.
      The chief narrowed his eyes at Mazatl's clenched fist. He drizzled the remaining beans back into the bag and barked orders. His men hauled the bags away.
      The chief regarded Mazatl a moment longer, then waved at the ship's rail. His men hoisted the captive to his feet and dumped him overboard.
      Mazatl surfaced, sputtering, and watched the vessel's wings spread once more. The great ship surged ahead and plowed through the waves, shrinking in his sight as he hauled himself aboard his dugout.
      No use going to Yucatan. The treasure he had just lost would have bought him a flock of turkeys and set him on the path to wealth. He turned and headed home with his life, one cacao bean and a tale beyond belief.


on the shores of the Caribbean: Jamaica (1871) by Frederic Edwin Church




Bittersweet
Chiapas, Mexico, AD1626

      Citlali stepped down from the carriage. Not a drop spilled from the covered china cup she bore on a silver tray. She had mastered the balancing art swiftly, incurring a beating only three times, much fewer than any of the other Nahua maids.




      Doņa Maria Magdalena de Morales snapped her fan shut and gestured with it toward the bishop's mansion. "Go ahead. Say exactly what I told you."


Paul Alexander Bartlett (1909-1990)

      "Si, Seņora." Citlali dipped a curtsy. As she mounted the steps to the hacienda, she heard behind her in the coach the two women chirping gossip back and forth.
      Citlali rapped on the grand mahogany door, then steadied her tray, biting her lip until at last a steward opened. He stared down his nose at her.
      "Doņa Maria Magdalena de Morales sends greetings," Citlali blurted, and pointed back at the carriage. "Greetings to His Excellency, the Most Reverend Bishop Bernardino de Salazar y Frias. Greetings and my lady's most humble apology for the strife and misunderstandings of the last month. Will His Excellency accept this token of my lady's sincere regret and her high regard for the most eminent personage of all Ciudad Real de Chiapas?"
      "What is it?" the steward asked.
      Citlali gulped. "Hot chocolate. Spiced. My lady's own special blend, served only to guests of the highest standing."
      The steward's nostrils flared. "What insult! Is it not enough, the shame those haughty women bring to our fair cathedral! All because of their unquenchable thirst for chocolate. Disgusting!"
      Citlali cast a despairing glance at the coach. Doņa Magdalena had promised Citlali a thorough thrashing if she failed her task.
      The steward followed Citlali's gaze, caught sight of the silken gowns and flounces and the feathered fan beating swift as an injured bird's wing. "Very well," he snapped, and took the silver tray. "Tell your mistress she’d better show evidence of a humble, repentant heart if she wishes to be allowed to attend Mass in the cathedral ever again." The door boomed shut.
      Citlali darted down the steps, clambered into the carriage, hunkered down in her place. Breathless, she repeated for her mistress every word the steward had said.
      All the way back to the mansion, Doņa Maria Magdalena de Morales chattered with her dear friend Doņa Maria Luisa Gutierrez de la Peņa y Rodriguez about their little joke. "The most splendid touch it was, Magdalena, sending our dear husbands in to brandish swords in the aisles! Never before have I seen a bishop's face turn from white to red to purple!"


Cathedral of San Cristobal de las Casas,
Chiapas, Mexico

      "What a tantrum he threw! Threatening to excommunicate us simply because we craved a little refreshment in the midst of his never-ending sermons. A most fitting retribution, don't you think?"
      Luisa tittered again. "What a wicked woman you are, Magdalena!"
      "Aren't I!"
      Their words fluttered as if they meant it in jest, but Citlali thought she heard more than a grain of truth. She was sure of it when the next day she heard word of the death of Bishop Bernardino de Salazar y Frias.
      Death by poisoning.

Fact: Throughout the years and decades and centuries afterward, the Spanish phrase su propio chocolate (his own chocolate) will ever after translate to "his own medicine"!


Eugene Landesio, The Valley of Mexico from the Hill in Tenayo, 1870,
oil on canvas, 150.5 x 213 cm (Museo Nacional de Arte, INBA, Mexico City)


See   Banners in the Mist   news article from 1624




William Louis Sonntag, Shenandoah Valley (1860, 92x143cm)

Gold In Them Thar Hills
Shenandoah Valley in the 1860's

      Liza shuffled the hot pie, bunching the towel to spare her fingers while she listened beside the open window.
      Eddy's voice rose outside. "Gold, I tell you! That hunter from up north, he found gold!"
      "On Foxfire Ridge?" came Al's deeper voice. "Never heard of gold in these parts."
      "Look," Eddy said. Paper rustled. "I jotted down the message. 'Come prepared,' he said, then a few words I didn't catch, then, 'it’s gold.'"
      "'Cave, Foxfire Ridge,'" Al read aloud. "'Bring miners helmets.' Did Mr. Sawyer know you were listening to telegraph messages?"
      "He doesn't believe I understand Morse code. I keep telling him I'm good enough at at all the dits and dahs to take messages when he's out, but he says, 'Go back to your primer.' Primer, hah! Kids' stuff."

      Paper rustled again. Al hummed a moment, then, "You may be right. That means we need to move fast, before out-of-towners flood the valley and up the ridge and take all the gold. It belongs to us as live here."
      "We'll need lanterns, picks and shovels," Eddy said.
      "Gold pans, and bags to carry ore out for sluicing."
      "A basket of grub, and jugs of water," Al said. "It'll be a long day's work."
      "That'll weigh a ton. Hey, we can take Sleepy Sue to carry it all!"
      Liza plunked her pie on the windowsill to cool, braced hands on either side of it, and leaned out. "Sleepy Sue won't budge for anyone but me," she told her brother and his friend. "And as mule driver, I get a third of the loot."
      "Eavesdropper!" Eddy complained.
      "Must run in our faily," Liza said, jabbing a finger at the paper with its overheard message. "I could tell Mr. Sawyer, you know."
      "Blackmailer!"
      "You want a third?" Al asked. "Us fellows'll be doing all the digging!"
      Eddy agreed. "You just sitting to the side and watching, keeping your pretty hands clean -- not worth a third. A quarter at most."


etching by Eugene Verboeckhoven, 1830

      "Clean, hmm? Who manured the whole garden last week while you two were off hunting?" she asked.
      They rolled their eyes. Liza changed to her old, stained laundry-day dress and put on her field boots. All the way up Foxfire Ridge, Al and Eddy grumbled at having a girl join their quest. Liza just smiled. Sleepy Sue plodded along behind her, picks and shovels rattling in the panniers along with the hearty lunch she'd packed.
      Al tracked the northerner's blundering trail through the woods. "A lousy hunter," he said.
      "Didn't even have a rifle when he came into the telegraph office," Eddy hooted.
      "What was he looking for if not game?" Liza wondered.


      "Stalactites and stalagmites," the northerner told them when he found them wandering perplexed through the cave. "A magnificent limestone formation, isn't it? My colleagues from the university will arrive tomorrow to map out the caverns."
      "But what about the gold?" Eddy asked.
      "You're the lad from the telegraph office, aren't you? I said nothing about gold." The bespectacled northerner knit his brows in thought. "I did mention the cold."
      Al and Liza glared at Eddy.
      He shrugged and looked sheepish. "Well, in Morse code, G sounds a lot like C."

Two bits of Morse code:

C: dah-di-dah-dit
G: dah-dah-dit

Each tone of "dah" is held three times the length of a "di" or "dit."


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