I am itching with anticipation to share my story with all of you, but I wanted to grant this insight of how all of this began for me. This is the original draft of what Secrets could have been, a single chapter between Seville and Loredana, who gambled everything to discover the City of Gold.
It still amazes me how much everything has shifted to what it has become now.
Happy reading, all!
Secrets of the City of Gold
Concept Chapter: Seven
It was pouring as evening fell upon Seville, Spain. Wetting the cobblestone pathway leading to the bland outside of the tavern, soaking shoes and splashing up on passersby. The cloak of a curvy shadow fluttered behind her as she pulled back the front door and settled herself inside.
The tavern was dank and dark save for the half-consumed fat wax candles that eagerly burned. Numerous voices carried above the piano that played, tinkling humdrum melodies that several drunkards bellowed mismatched words to. Her heeled scuffed and worn boots were barely heard against the jeers and hissings of gambles and bets. She clutched her cloak closer to her form, her tattered red skirts flowed in time with her step as she made her way towards the bar itself. The leather satchel at her hip bounced.
Tonight, she was in search of something, or rather, someone.
The floor was once hickory. Dirtied throughout the years with the flow of traffic that swept in and out of the tavern. Its owner had given up after its fiftieth brawl where blood stained through the knots and cracks.
The burly man behind the counter appeared as though he hadn’t seen a brush in weeks. The tangles and snares matching his beard, with all the black curls it could barely handle. Scars and lacerations decorated his once chiseled features, lightening against his mocha skin. “What’ll it be?” He asked with a gruff voice that had seemingly smoked one too many pipes.
“Brandy. On the rocks.”
Her blue eyes glittered into his, heart-shaped wine-colored lips curled into a smile. A transparent red scarf was tied around the crown of her hair, the thick espresso waves refusing to be contained—especially within this humidity.
“A brandy?” The gruff voice inquired incredulously. It only caused the young woman’s lips to grow into a grin.
“What do you take me for?” She asked teasingly with an accent that couldn’t be placed as she slid a coin purse onto the counter, “A wine girl?”
The sight of the coin purse lit the bartender’s eyes. “No, no,” he quickly withdrew himself, “Not at all. I’ll get that for you.”
“Much obliged, signore. I-I mean, señor.” She smiled and turned herself around, her olive-hued elbows placed upon the lip of the bar. Blue eyes once more surveyed the expanse of the room. Men fondled the brothel girls from the floor above in the west end of the tavern, and to the east—tables and chairs were pushed to either end as some of the men indulged in what appeared to be a game of dice on the floor.
A man with shoulder blade-length black hair bound back in a leather thong caught her eye. His fist shook calculatingly before letting the dice go, spinning upon their sides on the floor as he gave an excited cry, “Seven! Yes!”
A lucky shot, she thought to herself. Until it happened again, and then a third time. Coins were angrily tossed in the man’s direction. By now, the bartender had returned with her drink.
“Gracias,” she said and raised it to him before taking an anxious sip. Her index finger tapped at the smudged glass tentatively. “Barkeep, who is that man?”
The owner glanced up with a brief grunt to where she was referring, his large hands wiping down a pint glass. “Seville? He’s always here. They call him a lucky shot around this old dump.”
“Seville? As in the capital?” She murmured against the glass as she took another sip. “Say, Barkeep-?”
“Mortekai,” he corrected her. “My name, senorita. Is Mortekai.”
Offering him a glance over her shoulder, pieces of hair that had threatened to come undone from her kerchief had finally fallen over an eye. Mortekai’s cheeks had begun to redden. “Gracias, Mortekai. I’ll take another brandy, please.”
The young woman’s eyes remained upon Seville’s back and then drifted down to the dice he was playing with. How wise to play with loaded dice around half-pissed men. Unfortunately, she hadn’t time to waste. Nor could she be picky with the man she chose to help her. A rather capable, calculating mind that mirrored hers was exactly what she needed. She didn’t have much time before her buyer would realize she had vanished and had taken a crucial treasure with her.
Raising both glasses to Mortekai; the young woman offered him another smile as she stepped backward before spinning confidently upon her heel to face Seville and his party.
“Gentlemen, please. Please. That’s it; I really couldn’t take any more from you. That would be intolerably cruel.” He sat upon his heels and placed a hand upon his heart, opposite hand raised. “I am a man with a conscience, after all. In fact, I’ll buy you all a round for being such good sports.” He said this, of course, after he had collected the money into his cap.
He earned himself a chorus of cheers that rang throughout the tavern, signaling to Mortekai to begin lining up the shots to pour. His words were met with an exasperated exhale from the latter.
As though dancing her way through, the young woman maneuvered her way through the dispersing crowd before plopping herself on the opposite end of the man named Seville, skirts flaring around her. He needed a little cleaning up, a place to wash his face and have himself a bath. His facial hair was coming in just further than stubble, peppering his caramel skin. The curl of his lopsided grin, however, wouldn’t deny himself the pleasure of a pretty face to join his company. “Buena noches, senorita,” he greeted with a roll of his tongue, “I suppose you heard that little array back there?”
“Oh yes,” she retorted as she shifted so that she sat upon her heels. “I was rather impressed. So impressed,” she slid the glass in his direction, “I decided to buy—you—a drink on your victory.”
Seville arched a brow. “I don’t often accept drinks from-”
“Señor Mortekai just made them,” she interjected as she raised her own and took a greedy sip, not giving him a chance to reject her. “Delicious,” she pressed, “his finest brandy.”
Seville measured the untouched drink with his bourbon eyes. Lifting it, he brought it to his own lips, and then he stilled, “What’s the catch, honey? I mean, I’ve slept with women for less.”
Her brows sharply furrowed as she shivered a bristle, “Non lo sto cercando!” She seethed, “Sto cercando il tuo aiuto!”
She simmered, remembering where she was, “I’m sorry. I’m not looking for that,” she translated, “I’m looking for your help.”
“I don’t have much to pay you with.” She set her own drink down hurriedly to reach into her satchel, withdrawing a set of her own dice. “But I’ll play you for it.”
He hadn’t had a drop of drink the entire evening, too consumed with his winnings and focusing on his foes. But as this woman began to spill herself, he felt himself dizzying, “Whoa, whoa, slow yourself, senorita. I haven’t even had the pleasure of your name.”
She extended her palm towards him. “Loredana. My name, is Loredana.”
“Seville,” he reciprocated, their hands clapping together as he clasped hers into his with a firm shake. His warm elixir eyes read into her, knocking back the majority of the contents from the glass, he settled it just outside of the white-painted ring that had begun to also fade with lack of upkeep. “What is it that you need? Why me?”
She nervously chewed upon her bottom lip before explaining, “I was sold back in Venice. A merchant with enough coin bought me, took me back here to Spain to live as his bride. Rather than slit his throat, I escaped. I want passage out of here.”
He retorted without missing a beat, “I don’t have a boat.”
She frowned, “No, but I can tell you are a man who knows how to acquire one.”
“What’s in it for me?” He interjected.
Loredana stared at him, knowing well he’d want to know upfront what his cut was. Shifting back into her satchel, she rummaged and procured a rolled-up paper, tied together with twine. Her hands shook, a lump caught in her throat as a semblance of hope took residence there. Her fingers fidgeted as they attempted to carefully untie the twine, to spare the paper.
She slapped it into the middle of the circle, her blue eyes continuously shifting between him and the map before spreading the ends out until it laid flat. Taking both of their glasses, she used them as weights to hold it down. A tanned paper ribbed at its edges from men who held it before. Likely, men who had failed, as it somehow wound up in her buyer’s hands. “A map. Not of the New World, but of a better one. A city filled with treasures and pleasures far beyond your wildest dreams.” She pointed to the golden temple crudely drawn at the bottom. “I cannot take this journey alone. I cannot go back to Venice, nor can I stay here. Please.”
Her eyes read into his sincerely, pleading with him to accept. “I will play you for it. Fair and square. If I win, you accompany me. If I lose, I’ll leave now.”
He didn’t know why, but Seville pocketed his dice. Staring down at the map, he saw the trail marks and patterned markers of landmarks—bridges, streams, cliffs, and caves. It was either a suicide mission or what could possibly be a grand adventure. “And you’re up to this?”
“Señor Seville, I have nothing else to lose,” she stated as she jostled the dice between her fingers to warm them up. “If we succeed and we find this City of Gold, you can take as much as your heart desires, and send you right back home. You can be richer than the King of Spain.”
He hated this juxtapose. On the one hand, he could walk away from this problem that wasn’t his. Wash his hands of this woman and her woes and resume life as it were. On the other hand, this woman presented an opportunity before him. In passing, he had heard the legend of this City of Gold but passed it off as a mere fable. He couldn’t confirm nor deny the authenticity of this document, but he could tell that Senorita Loredana wasn’t lying. No one could make up that kind of desperation.
Curious, though. How she managed to get her hands upon this map. The detailing on it couldn’t possibly have been forged. This was no tea-stained project.
“Alright,” he sighed, “alright. Best two out of three.”
Clasping her dice to her heart, he could have sworn she swooned with relief. Something about those doe eyes pulled him in.
“What kind of woman walks around with dice?”
But either Loredana didn’t hear him, or she pretended not to hear his question as she positioned herself upon her knees. A hint of cleavage was exposed from between the solid shawl she wore over her shoulders and the low neckline of her dress. Seville swallowed hard and waited to see the outcome, “Call it.”
“C’mon, show me seven,” she murmured into thin air before reeling her hand back, sloshing the pair in her delicate palm before releasing with a swift and dainty flick of her wrist into the circle. The first die rolled a two, not comforting for her. But his eyes widened when the next rolled onto a five.
“Lucky shot,” he scoffed.
She looked up at him innocently, reaching back to collect her dice.
She repeated the same actions as before, now shaking the dice between her cupped palms before spilling them into the circle. Another seven.
Frowning, Seville shifted and sat crisscrossed on the floor, leaning in to observe Loredana with his elbow perched upon his knee. Instead, she followed opposite to remove her shawl, as well as her kerchief. His mind began to rouse its suspicions. “Any time now.” He referenced to her freshening herself as her cheeks reddened from the excitement rousing forth regarding the gamble.
She forwent having a pretty face blow on the pair of dice for luck. Instead, she blew down upon her pair and began their roll. His eyes should have been examining her motions. By now, she was attracting a number of those from the earlier gamble, now clad with a drink in their hands. Peering over Seville’s shoulder, they watched as her curves moved with her motions. Finally, leaning back over the circle, she tossed the pair of dice.
Five and two. Seven.
What were the odds?
Biting her bottom lip, her large blue eyes drank Seville in. She was the winner. Senorita Loredana bested three out of three tries. Not that he would take this at face value, however. Seville rocked backward on his heel and looked over his shoulder to measure which drunken fool would have a different pair of dice on their person.
“Alejandro,” he whispered as Loredana was captivated by the attention some of the other impressed patrons bathed her in. Extending his hand back, he drew the other male in by his shirt’s collar. The poor bastard reeked of ale. “Give me your set of dice.”
Knitting his brows together, the other male shuffled into his patchy green vest with his free hand to surrender his set. Alejandro’s eyes shifted concerningly between Loredana and Seville.
“Senorita,” Seville purred, pulling Loredana from her attentive audience. “Senorita Loredana, I must congratulate you on your win. But I must ask you indulge me in one last roll.”
Collecting her dice from the center of the pit, she reeled her hand back before Seville held his hand up. “No, no,” she stopped her, “with a fresh pair.”
Shit. She swallowed, “If Señor Seville so wishes.” She complied and placed her dice back into her satchel.
Seville’s smile, she suspected, was a trap. One she wasn’t going to fall into by allowing herself to waver. Technically, she had won. That would be her argument post-roll, regardless of the outcome. Forwarding herself with open palms, Loredana returned his smile and accepted the dice. Once more, she blew on them for luck.
“You’ve got this.” The men were confident, taken with a woman who was blessed with a fortunate touch.
“I’ll blow on it for you!” Another offered. Loredana released a silvery laugh as she offered up the dice for the potbellied man to blow upon. Grinning with reddened cheeks, she placed them close to her heart as she could feel Seville’s eyes rolling towards the back of his head.
“Senorita, please. We are all waiting.”
She placed a hand upon her heart. “My apologies, senor.”
Warming them up, she rotated them. Cupping them between both palms, she began to shake them. Please, she thought. Please roll seven. Her smile began to fade as she concentrated, determining all the types of probability that this pair would roll on the lucky number.
Four and three, five and two, six and one.
Closing her eyes, she finally tossed the pair as a collective gasp sounded behind her. All eyes planted upon the determination circle. Her hand balled into a fist at her lap to release the buildup of pressure within her and calmed herself down, fighting the physical attributes that came with an increase in heart rate. Loredana couldn’t give herself away. Peeking an eye open finally, the set of dice were face up in the light.
Five and two.
Her eyes lit up, “Seven!”
Seville’s eyes expanded to twice their size. Examining the same set that had come up with hers. Could it be possible that she was truly—that—lucky? An eruption of claps came from around the circle, including Seville, as he was awestricken.
That also meant he had to hold up to his end of the bargain. Crap.
“Congratulations, senorita.” The men nearest to her clapped the lucky young woman upon her shoulder, touching her in hopes that a speckle of fortune would spread from her to them.
“You can play us, any time.” Some hiccupped.
Humbly smiling, she bowed her head to each of them as they dispersed and finally left the tavern. Looking up, she met Mortekai’s eyes as his brows rose.
He, also, had underestimated her—it seemed.
Alejandro gathered his dice and stumbled out of the bar with the rest of them, departing with a finger wiggle by Loredana. Leaving only Seville and Loredana on their side of the tavern. Seville began to wonder who this woman was, and what exactly she was capable of that she wasn’t telling. Extending his hand to her, he hoisted her up in one pull, sweeping her up off her feet as she brushed against his hardened pectorals. “When do we depart, senorita?”
Mortekai added, “Seville, why don’t you show her to the room where she can stay tonight? Leave in the morning.”
“No,” she said with haste, earning the surprised looks of both Mortekai and Seville. “No. I’d rather not give that bastard time to find me gone. I’d like to leave tonight, if possible.”
Mortekai, who had been wiping his counter, paused as she said those words, “Whoever it is you’re running from won’t find you here, senorita. Get some rest.” He said this, as though challenging anyone who would come up against a man of his stature.
He had heard in drunken ramblings that eyes were the windows to the soul. The fear and concern impregnated in hers left much to the imagination. Curious of her story, of what led her to his tavern on this rainy evening.
Taking her by the arm, Seville began to escort her towards the upstairs, momentarily pausing as she gave resistance by remaining planted where she stood. Easing his grip, his hand slackened from her arm and instead opted to reach for her hand, “You’re with me now. Nothing’s going to happen to you.”