I am so proud and pleased to share with you all my debut novel that is a bag of mixed concepts: a retelling of the film The Road to El Dorado, the origins of the myth, some culture context to be excited about that is not read like a dry textbook.
Also, a quick note: the legend I referenced in Chapter One is to be credited to Nancy Van Laan’s 1991 telling. A wonderfully crafted book about a serpent-god who abducts a Chibcha chief’s family, leading him to paint himself in gold and offer himself as tribute in Lake Guatavita throughout the years in order to reunite with them. You can find her book on Amazon, entitled, The Legend of El Dorado.
I thought this was the perfect story for a father to tell his young daughter before bed! Where, in fact, there are so many retellings.
Alas, I am rambling. Without further ado, enjoy:
Prophecy foretells: the gods will select a man of reformation and a woman of healing to save our golden empire from perish. Tainted by the mortal blood of another, only mortal hands shall defeat.
-The prophecy as declared by Lord Horado and Lady Clodovea.
Meet Seville Diaz: an adoring father of seven-year-old precocious Rosita Maria Rosalina Diaz, who relishes in her father’s favorite story to tell about the City of Gold. Seville is also the husband to a woman who lusts after the finer things in life, things Seville had to gamble his way in order to obtain, taking sharp risks with hopes for more. Who comes up short and teeters continuously on losing it all.
Meet Loredana Moretti: the daughter of an apothecary who yearns for a life she could be happy with. The sudden passing of her father renders her with an option, and a certain captain with a map to the fabled City of Gold lures Loredana into a life altering decision. The knowledge she possesses is enough to save, but the secrets she habors may be enough to cause a war.
Join Seville and Loredana on their personal quests, their struggles, and discovering what is truly important to them as they set sail to uncover the mysterious fabled City of Gold.
Let that sink in as I unveil Chapter One in all of its glory!:
Secrets of the City of Gold
Lost in the tranquil descent of the day’s sun, my bourbon eyes gazed into the painted streaks of pinks, purples, and the smudge of orange that permeated the sky. Transfixed, I began to wonder if I should have let Rosita stay up a little longer to witness the beauty that came with the day’s end. That was, until I heard her little voice call me.
“Papa, will you tell me the story of El Dorado?”
Turning around from the balcony’s ledge, I met the small roundness of my daughter’s face. Hands occupied as one fitfully rubbed against her eye, and the other clutched tight to a worn teddy bear whose stubby legs touched the ground. I had put her to bed a half-hour ago.
“The story of El Dorado?” I asked curiously, pushing myself away from the ledge to approach her. “You little sneak; when you did you climb out of bed?” I kneeled down to meet her eye.
Her lips formed a pout, low sable pigtails swept along her shoulders as she moved her head, “Papa,” she whimpered her plea, “I can’t sleep. Please tell me the story?”
She knew how to tug on my heartstrings. It was rare that I denied her anything that she asked for, which of course, got me in trouble with my wife more times than I cared to admit. Still, my eyes softened all the same at the prize of my life, “Why that one, Rosi?”
Her lips spread into a wide smile as she raised her arms for me to lift her. Scooping her just beneath her armpits, I felt my heart surge with warmth as her arms tightened around my neck in a hug before replying, “I love the way you tell it.”
Squeezing my daughter to me, I answered, “Then you shall hear all about the City of Gold.”
Rising from my kneel, I began to walk through the lavish bedroom I shared with my wife, only to meet her hardened gaze bear into me as our eyes met in the hallway. The bloodshot in hers commanded we talk. Maddeningly reddened orbs I had met numerous times in the course of our marriage. It was a talk that could wait until our daughter’s eyes had closed. There was no need to carry on a conversation in her conscious presence.
Tucking the next task in the back of my mind, I sorted through my priorities as I held her delicately. My Rosita would always be my top priority. Always.
Passing my wife, I could hear her disgusted scoff as my back faced her. The walk down the hallway felt longer than what I had remembered as the back of my mind clouded with the impending dread. The lightest of stirring from Rosita brought me back as her head nuzzled against my shoulder and fought to stay awake to hear her story.
Peeling back the covers, I gently nestled my daughter onto the mattress before covering her up to her chin with woven blankets in colors of sunset. She adjusted herself accordingly and popped her bear out from underneath to snuggle. My brother and I had crafted that bear when Rosita was a year old.
“Alright, ready?” I asked in a whisper, “Let’s see, deep inside a big green forest, there was a great lake.” I spread my arms out to show her its width. “Inhabited by a magical serpent. Do you remember what kind of serpent it was, Rosi?”
Settled, Rosita began to hum as she sought to recover the reply, “Emerald! It was an emerald serpent, papa! With big rubies for eyes!”
Chuckling, I settled into the mattress beside her. “That’s right! And the serpent was set to curse anyone who disturbed it from its slumber. Nearest to the lake was a village. Who occupied the village?”
Now came the first yawn, “A princess.”
“Not quite,” I soothed, “try again.” My lips tugged into a smile. “C’mon, I know you know the answer, my smart girl.” My fingers tickled her stomach playfully, releasing a set of giggles as she clutched her stomach to stop me.
“Papa! No!” She protested with a squeal, “Papa, the…the chief!”
I grinned. “That’s right! A chief, his queen, and their princess lived happily in a village filled with beautiful jewels and more gold than they could count. Now, one day, while the queen and princess were venturing through the jungle, the princess went off on her own and found herself by the lake’s edge. Upon playing by the edge of the water, she woke up the emerald serpent below.” I attempted to sound menacing.
Rosita gasped as she clutched her bear tighter. I continued, “All the princess could see were the glittering ruby eyes of the serpent. Once the chief found out, he told his wife and daughter that they couldn’t go near that lake again.”
“Was it too late?” She murmured.
So solemnly, I nodded, “It was. Later that evening, when all was quiet, the queen and princess were woken up by an enchanting voice that baited them back to the lake. It was there where they met the same glittering eyes, and that was all they saw before they disappeared into the dark waters.”
She gasped again and clutched the blankets, “The serpent cursed them!”
“He did. And do you know what happened next? The chief searched high and low for his family. Although, in the pit of his stomach, he knew where they were. He just would not believe it.”
“I know, baby, I know. Eventually, the chief mustered up the courage to go to the lake, where he found the clothes and golden jewels they wore. Angrily, he lured the serpent out and demanded to know where his family was hidden. All the serpent could say was that they were happy with him, and it wasn’t his time to be with them again.”
Rosita turned onto her side; her eyes fixed onto me. “Was he lying?”
I paused for a moment, “The chief doubted it at first, I’m sure. But that didn’t matter.” I reached to poke her nose gently as I saw her eyes beginning to droop. “A good father would do anything to get his little girl back. So, he bartered with the serpent to make a promise that he would allow him to see them again. The chief cleverly devised a plan to make sure the serpent kept his end of the bargain.”
“How did he do that?” Her small voice was growing weaker as sleep was beginning to settle in. Still, she fought to stay awake to hear the end.
“Every year until the king was reunited with his loved ones, he and his people treated that day like a holiday. They built a raft large enough to carry the tribute they would give to the serpent. The chief covered himself in oil, and was painted from head-to-toe in gold powder. Once all the tribute was in the lake, he dove into it and let the gold powder decorate the water.”
Rosita’s eyes sparkled, “A golden lake? That must have been so pretty,” she gushed before releasing a second yawn.
My hand swept up over her bangs. I adored her precocious mind. I never wanted her to stop asking questions.
Ask; ask away, my darling girl.
“Very pretty, indeed. That’s actually why it’s called El Dorado. It means gilded man—the way the chief was covered in gold, he literally was a golden man. After many years of paying the serpent tribute, and the serpent was pleased, the chief was finally reunited with his wife and child. And because of this, the village continued the ritual every time they welcomed a new chief. He would dip himself in gold and plunge into the lake to please the serpent, so that their village may continue to be protected.”
Cuddling up with her teddy bear, Rosita’s large bourbon eyes softened. “Papa? I would never do that. I would never want to leave you.”
In all my twenty-five years, nothing had ever made my heart swell as this moment had. “I love you, my precious girl,” I whispered as I leaned down to press a kiss upon her forehead. “Now, sleep tight. I’ll think of a good story for tomorrow night.”
Pushing myself up from the small bed, I began to advance towards the door when I heard, “Papa, do you think El Dorado is real?”
Her question stumped me, I turned back to her before meeting the doorway, “Well, no one has ever found it.” I was honest with her, sinking back into the mattress at her side. “My papa told me the story when I was little. Many have tried and returned empty-handed. Some say there’s a map, but no one has found that, either. Others say there’s an entire city out there made of gold. That the people migrated when others tried to search for the lake and invaded their land.” I realized how all of these possibilities sounded like rushed excuses.
Rosita continued to stare with her half-lidded eyes, expecting an answer. “You know what I think? I think that El Dorado is what you make it to be.” I leaned in to brush my lips upon her tiny brow. “And you, my little love, are papa’s El Dorado.”
Leaning over to blow out the candle, I slowly eased myself from the bed so as not to disturb my daughter; her eyes ultimately lost the battle as sleep claimed her. Out of all the stories I could tell of fairies, mermaids, and other magical creatures, she wanted to hear about a golden man. Her little mind craving for action and adventure. Closing the door behind me and hearing it catch the latch, I chalked it up to the fact that perhaps it was because El Dorado was—my—favorite tale growing up.
The grim face of my wife outside of our daughter’s bedroom was enough to leave the hairs on the back of my head to stand on end. Her arms crossed gratingly, pressed tight against her breasts as I could feel the dense tenuous air between us. I didn’t have to look at her knuckles to know how white they were against her caramel skin.
Leaning just adjacent to the opening of the stairwell, she peeled herself from the wall, leaving my eyes to follow her backside and shapely hips as she descended the stairs of the oversized villa. The flutter of faded blue and green skirts swayed with each step. Straight dark hair remained fixed in place towards her shoulder blades as my hand swept through the shagginess that were my raven waves. Gripping the black railing, I slowly followed her lead as the slow, burning, and angered walk proceeded to sap the energy from me.
A silent descent was never the best of signs.
Stumbling past the multiple stuffed trophy animals, which lined the hallway leading to the office, the overpowering floral scent caused my nose to wrinkle. A tinkle of bells chimed together as I closed the door behind me. She furiously strode towards the corner desk, her fingers quickly shuffling through numerous documents that now littered the formerly organized office space before her palms laid flat. Bowing her head, her hair curtained around her over her shoulders, which trembled lightly.
“No,” she snapped, placing her finger up to her lips, the way she would do with our daughter. “No. I’m speaking first.”
Freezing in place, I stood erect, hands clenched to my sides. I felt as powerless as our daughter must have when she was admonished in such a manner.
When she looked up at me, finally, her eyes transformed—leaking strands of bristling tears. “Where is all of our money, Seville? Not your brother’s money, ours.”
I flinched. Her eyes snapped open.
“That was our savings, Seville! Now, how are we supposed to move out of your brother’s villa? I don’t care how long he’s allotted us to stay while he’s off traveling who-knows-where!” Her hands flailed as she spoke. She was seething. “You promised me that things would be different!”
I could have searched my archive of excuses, which would bumble out of my mouth in a slew of stammers. Caught, there was nowhere to go. “Who came?” My broken voice had fallen to barely above a whisper. But Juanita, she was like a hawk.
“Carlos and Alanzo,” she replied. “While you were upstairs putting Rosita to bed the first time. They showed up looking for more.” She picked up a set of papers before throwing them back down. “More!?” Her pitchy voice rioted the otherwise calm room. “How much did you lose?” She demanded. My wife’s lips thinned as my face fell, defeated. “How am I supposed to go anywhere in this life with you?” She hissed. “I took a chance on you.”
I gripped the back of the chair that sat across from the desk. I refused to sit, no matter how much my mind pleaded with me, as my legs began to wobble. But for how much longer would I continue to listen to the same argument thrown at me repeatedly? And I wasn’t referring to the money. “We did the right thing for Rosita. Don’t pretend like you actually love me, Juanita.”
“Love?” She scoffed, plopping down behind the chair my brother often occupied. “Who would love you, Seville? Yes, we did the right thing for Rosita, but enough is enough.” She dropped her eyes back down to the papers littered with copious red markings. Numbers. Amounts owed. “We cared enough for one another to make this work, for the sake of her having both mother and father. And while I did my part, you failed to do yours.” She tugged at her left hand, namely the band that rested upon it. “And I’ll further fail if I stay. If we stay.”
There were many things in which I had done to fail. Bad choices I had made in my lifetime. I had taken risks I shouldn’t have, gambled on a teetering fortune that quickly dissolved to nothing. But if there was one thing I felt I was good at, if not the only thing—it was being a father.
The realization in Juanita’s words hit me greater than any sucker-punch could have. “No,” I protested sternly, “No, you can’t take Rosita from me.”
Again, Juanita scoffed, disgusted, “You have taken your daughter from you.”
Now, I chose to listen to myself. I lowered myself into the chair opposite the desk in which Juanita occupied, attempting to get a closer look at the papers on the desk. Her hands splayed over them as she glared at me with her biting words. “I can stop. I-I can.” I was desperate. “I can get a better job. Just please, please…” I groveled, and I hated groveling, “don’t take my daughter from me.”
Her eyes were hollow with little empathy. Devoid of any sense of emotion, something I was coming to terms with that I had caused over the years. Which was why she said with little care, “I just can’t take that chance again,” she sounded exhausted, “I took it when we lost our home. Your brother wouldn’t leave us outside in the cold when he had more than enough room. To provide us an opportunity to save, that you literally threw away! On what, I ask!? What!?” I began to raise myself when her voice grew shriller, reaching for her with my hands. As much as we may have drifted, this woman was still my wife.
“I threw away enough of my life to be with you,” she said as she slapped my hands away. “Because I made a mistake and fell for your-your charisma six years ago.” Her chest heaved as she wrapped her arms around herself, closing me off from approaching any further.
“What happened to you? Did having a daughter change you that much? You and your brother had a thriving business with the vineyards and when you found out I was pregnant you thought gambling would give you more? You promised me better. No matter how much Lorenzo begged you otherwise, you grew cocky on a few lucky shots with some cheap drunks.” I lowered myself back into my seat as her eyes stared me down into it. I hardly saw the ring hit the desk; the hollow echo jerked me towards it as it spun a few times before settling.
“It’s over, Seville. Done.”