In advance of the publication of The Sojourner on September 30, here is a short excerpt:
In my dream, I am Joseph Aurellano. Not the Joseph Aurellano who lived in the Vancouver of Aeida’s universe under Meredith’s supervision. Some other Aurellano. Though Aurellano never existed. He was a construct of the Acolytes, a simulacrum of a person, intended only to keep me imprisoned and hidden. I remember almost nothing of his thoughts, what he did during those months when I was imprisoned there. Only a few glimpses, shadows of things, came to me, usually when I was lost to myself, in battle with Aeida for command of this body and mind.
Those times I managed to return during my imprisonment, Aurellano was already gone. Aeida returned, though without his memories, which made him pliable. How many times did I come back and surreptitiously make contact with Morris, before being thwarted by Meredith? I never dared ask him that. Never asked him how long it had been since I was exiled. Though it hardly matters now; it is something I don’t want to know.
In this dream—for they are all different, these dreams of Aurellano—I am in what appears to be a small colonial town. Spanish, if I had to guess, though it could be Portuguese. I am near a square with a large Catholic church. Facing it is an official-looking stone building. None of the other buildings nearby has any of the impressive size or permanence of those two. They are all made of bamboo or other trees, with thatched roofs, some on stilts. There is salt on the air and the smell of fish pervades everything, but there is no sign of the sea anywhere.
The faces that pass by on the street are largely Asian, with a few Europeans and Africans thrown into the mix. The clothing, mine in particular, looks like something Osahi would wear. I stand under the shade of an awning, protecting me against the midday sun. Beside me, a functionary—a European, as am I—sits on a precarious-looking stool, an inkwell and some paper set upon a small table.
He is looking at me expectantly, pen poised to write, as are two women who stand facing me. Their dress is simple—a blouse and long, flowing skirt—though the colors are exquisite. Both have worn and thick fingers, of the sort that have done manual work, and their faces are lined from days spent in the sun. The notary clears his throat, as though to remind me that I am to speak.
“My apologies,” I say, putting a finger to my temple. “I lost my train of thought.”
“Yes, of course. Please continue.”
Both women look at each other. “We’ve already told you everything there is to tell, sir.”
“I want to hear it again,” I say, making clear my irritation.
The women look from me to the notary, who shifts uncomfortably on his stool.
“Fine,” I say. “Read it back to me.”
“The women say that while they were at the docks this morning working cleaning the day’s catch, they saw Doña Pía, who was with them at the time, slip away and meet with a Chinese man. They think this man was Tingco.”
I look at the two women. “And you are certain of this?”
They nod, and the older of the two says, “As certain as we can be, not having seen the man before. The men on the docks knew who he was, that’s for certain. They were all watching him real careful, but none of them said a word to him.”
“And did you ask them who he was?”
“After, yes. No one would say, which is why it must be him.”
“I see,” I say, not feeling the same confidence that she does. It is possible that the man they saw was just another pirate and not the Tingco. The docks of Manila are lousy with them, after all, and not every Chinese pirate is the notorious Tingco, despite what the easily impressionable might think. Though I sense this is a waste of my time, I continue with my questions. “Did he ask to speak to Doña Pía?”
The woman shakes her head. “No, he just went down by the warehouses, you know. She slipped away after she saw him. Left us to do the work.”
“So you didn’t see them together?”
“I see,” I say, letting them know by my tone that I am doubtful of their claims. Just because they do not like this other woman doesn’t mean her consorting with a sea hoodlum is a crime. Now I will have to find this woman and see what she can tell me about this Chinese sailor.
The older woman glares at her younger companion, sensing that they are losing my interest. “We found them, all right. Back in one of the alleys. I don’t expect I need to tell you what they were about.” She sniffs as though such things are far beneath her. “But it’s what they said that will interest you.”
I resist a sigh. “And what was that?”
“It was Tingco, there can be no doubt. He said he was banding all the pirates together under his flag. He’s recruiting locals, too, all through Manila. Even in the Intramuros. They’re going to kill all Peninsulars. Every last one of you.”
The notary and I share a glance. “Was there anything else?”
Both women look slightly insulted at my lack of reaction at their words. They shake their heads. I thank them for their report and leave the notary to get the details of where Doña Pía lives. I have stood long enough in the heat of the day, and I retreat to a nearby tavern, where I take a glass of brandy. I am just finishing my drink when the notary comes to find me.
“What do you think?” I say.
He wipes the sweat from his brow and stares longingly at the bottles behind the bar. “It’s a pirate, no doubt. But is it Tingco?”
“Indeed. We’ll have to find out? You have the woman’s house?”
The notary nods, his gaze still lingering on the bottles. “Near the Alcaceria.”
Though the Alcaceria is the Chinese district of Manila, I suspect it means little that this Doña Pía lives nearby. Far more likely she encountered the pirate through her work on the docks. The natives and the Chinese do not tend to mix, no matter how close the quarters they might keep. There is little love lost between them. After all, if it weren’t for we Spanish, the Chinese might rule this place. That doesn’t mean there isn’t something to what the women told me. The Chinese are forever plotting to gain a stronger foothold on these islands.
“We had better go,” I say. “I want this dealt with before nightfall.
“There’s one other thing,” the notary says, as we head toward the door. “About what the pirate was wearing. They both said he was wearing a black robe.”
I glance sideways at the notary. “Like a priest?”
“Something like that, I gather. Though not precisely the same. There was an insignia on his shoulder.”
“What sort of insignia?”
“They didn’t recognize it. A symbol of some sort. Red.”
A shiver of premonition passes through me, and it is then that I wake up.