Logo_CC

FICTION

Excerpt from
The Curse of Queen Califia (Chapter 3)  

An unpublished historical fantasy © R. A. Cabral 2016

~ ~ ~

Early the next morning, Tom phoned Martín, who said he was dressed and ready for a new adventure. Tom told him of his idea to drive over to the Point Reyes headland to visit the area around the Lifeboat Station. The facility is non-operational, but still maintained as a National Historic Landmark by the National Parks Service. “I think we can drive down to their parking lot, if I explain your situation. Maybe we’ll throw in that one of your relatives worked the lifeboats in the thirties.” Tom smiled. 

“In fact, a great uncle of mine did work the lifeboat station,” Gallegos laughed.  

Tom prepared a couple of sandwiches, packed some leftover potato salad, and tossed a couple of bottled waters into his cooler. He threw the two fold-out lawn chairs into the back of his pickup, and headed up the Shoreline Highway. Fifteen minutes later, he pulled into Gallegos’ driveway, helped Martín inside the vehicle, and soon they were driving north on Sir Francis Drake Boulevard. 

Tom explained that his research last evening proved inconclusive, but that he was following a hunch. “Apparently, you were right. I couldn’t find a cave anywhere. But when you realize that the erosion rate on these bluffs is six inches to a foot-and-a-half per year, over 500 years, what was there then, isn’t necessarily there now.” 

They drove quietly along the winding, bumpy road, slowing when they reached the town of Inverness, a tiny quaint village on the western edge of Tomales Bay. Pointing toward the bay, Tom said, “You know, the San Andreas Fault runs right under that body of water, and out to the Pacific. In essence, we’re looking at the end of the fault on land.” 

“And is it true, then, that if a major earthquake hits the area, this piece of land—the peninsula—could fall off into the ocean?” 

“Nope, untrue,” Morrow said, catching himself from laughing aloud. He’d spent the better part of his geological career correcting that misimpression to non-scholars. Tom explained how the Point Reyes Peninsula sat atop the Pacific Tectonic Plate. He gestured through the car’s wind screen again.  

“That land over there by Marshall, Dillon Beach, Bodega Bay—it’s all part of the North American Tectonic Plate. Everything west of Tomales Bay, where we’re at now, it’s on the Pacific plate, which is rotating in a northwesterly direction relative to that other plate at the rate of an inch or two a year.  

“In case of an earthquake, this land,” Tom said, gesturing down, “will move northward compared to those towns across the way.” He looked over to see if the old man understood.  

“Amazing,” Gallegos marveled. “I’ve lived here my entire life, and no one’s ever explained that to me.” 

Tom looked over and smiled at his friend. 

“Now may I educate you on something?” Tom shrugged and gestured that he was happy to listen. “Do you know where the name Califia comes from?” 

“Some Spanish legend, I believe.” 

“That’s correct. But did you know the legend was based on literature?” The legend of Queen Califia, Gallegos explained, looking at his notes from his valise, owed its origin to the novel Las Sergas de Esplandián. “In English, it’s known as The Adventures of Esplandián. The author was a Spanish writer, Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo, who published his book around 1510; perhaps wrote it circa 1500. It was the final book in a five-book series. Apparently, Montalvo elected to update what was, at the time, the classic, three-part chivalric romance tale entitled, Amadis of Gaul. My researcher said the original story was written sometime in the late 14th Century by Vasco de Lobeira a Portuguese, like yourself, who served in the court of King João I , and based his story on this nobleman from Galicia who ruled Portugal and the Algarve from 1385 to 1433. Eventually, the story was translated into many languages, including Spanish, and from there Montalvo appended Amadis of Gaul by writing two more original books based on the characters. 

“Allow me to read from Esplandián,” Gallegos said. “Here is the intro to California”: 

‘Know that to the right hand of the Indies, there is an island called California, very near the Terrestrial Paradise, which was peopled with black women, without any men among them, because they were accustomed to live after the fashion of Amazons. They were of strong and hardened bodies, of ardent courage, and great force. The island was the strongest in the world, from its steep rocks and great cliffs. Their arms were all of gold; 

Nowthere reigned in this island of California a Queen, very large in person, the most beautiful of all of them, of blooming years, and in her thoughts desirous of achieving great things, strong of limb, and of great courage, more than any of those who had filled her throne before her…. She was not petite, nor blond, nor golden-haired. She was large, and black as the ace of clubs.’ 

“So, she was black?” 

“Yes, and beautiful,” Gallegos crooned. “And an Amazonian warrior queen, although that actually originated with the Greeks; it’s not based on a South American tribe.”  

“And so that is where California got its name, Montalvo’s Queen Califia?” 

“Apparently so,” the older man said. Spanish explorers like Hernan de Cortes in the early 16th Century believed the peninsula adjacent to Mexico (now Baja California) was in actuality an island and the great body of water to the east was called the Vermillion Sea. So they named that punta or baja after the mythical island of California, as conceived by Montalvo.  

“You’ll note in the book her name actually was written Cal-ah-fia,” Gallegos noted, speaking it phonetically with the emphasis on the “ah” sound. “But over time, it was popularized to Califia, I suppose, to conform with the land that was named for her.” 

It is believed Montalvo created the name California from the Arabic word khalīfah , which is the head of state in a Caliphate. As the author well knew, the Moors ruled the Iberian Peninsula as a caliphate from 711 to 1492, which was around the time Montalvo penned the novel Esplandián. “Interesting,” observed the Hispanic man, “given that we’re at war with the Islamic state today.” 

~ ~ ~ 

Driving along Sir Francis Drake Boulevard toward the headland one passes through several working dairy farms. Almost a century ago, about a dozen families owned large sections of the peninsula. Then in 1962, the ranches were grandfathered in to the Point Reyes National Seashore, which is managed by the National Park Service. Tom spotted a road sign that indicated the lighthouse was closed Tuesday through Thursday.  

“Uh, oh,” Tom said, as they passed the sign. Gallegos missed it and looked over with concern. “Sign back there says the lighthouse is closed today. Which means the lifeboat station could be closed as well. I just hope the road to Chimney Rock isn’t blocked.” 

Twelve minutes later, after they passed through the large “A” Ranch operation, Tom could see that the road ahead divided in two: to the right was the Point Reyes Lighthouse; to the left, Chimney Rock and the Lifeboat Station. As they approached the divide, Tom cited a Yogi Berra-ism “‘When you come to a fork in the road—take it,’” he quipped. After making the sharp left, he glanced over to see the old man chuckling to himself. 

~ ~ ~ 

When they arrived at Chimney Rock parking lot, they found five vehicles there, visitors who had come to trek to the edge of the Point to take in the magnificent view. It offers an unparalled 320-degree vista with the Pacific Ocean on the right and Drakes Bay to the left. 

Tom eased his truck down the lane, past the sign warning visitors the roadway is for vehicles on official business. “If we want to park close to the Lifeboat Station, we’ll just take a chance.” As Morrow guided the truck down the lane and crept slowly past the park ranger residence, he asked Gallegos. “Ever been here?” 

“Oh, a long time ago,” Martín answered. “Mostly, when I’ve walked along these beaches.” 

“Apparently they frown on that now. This whole area’s a protected natural area reserved for the Elephant Seals. And we’re supposed to keep one-hundred feet away.” 

Tom parked in the one of the spaces at the Lifeboat Station. He peered through the windshield and pointed toward the next bend. “That’s where that possible cave area is located, but it looks to be at least a football field away, Martín . If we’re going to do this together, it’s going to have to be right here, outside the truck,” Tom explained. 

He backed the truck around so that the rear of the vehicle faced the water. As he got out and opened the passenger door for Martín, the door to the Lifeboat Station opened. A young woman poked her head out and reminded Tom that parking was for Point Reyes business only. Tom walked over and explained his situation: in the truck was an octogenarian whose dying wish was to revisit the place where he first wooed his wife over sixty years ago. It was not just a lie, but two big ones: Gallegos wasn’t dying, and he had never been married. But when the woman looked around Tom and the old man smiled and saluted her with a wave, she agreed to let them stay there for twenty minutes. Tom thanked her and walked back to the truck where he helped the older man out and clamber onto the tailgate.  

Tom pulled out the paper that contained the chant. He surveyed the bay, waited a few seconds and then said, “I’d prefer we weren’t so conspicuous, with the Lifeboat Station in plain view, but in this case, we don’t have a choice.” He sat down next to Martín Gallegos. “You ready?” 

“Give me a moment,” said the old man, his hands trembling with anticipation. He bent his head and said a quiet prayer; Tom could see his lips moving as he spoke the words. Gallegos made the sign of the cross. “I am ready.” 

~ ~ ~ 

Tom assumed the mantle as Gallegos’ new spokesperson. He slid off the tailgate and walked over to the white picket fence that prevents visitors from walking on to the rocky shore. Facing the general direction of the imagined cave, approximately one hundred yards south of their position near the Lifeboat Station, he began. In between the modest waves crashing onto the bayside shore, he could hear the elephant seals calling attention to the moment.  After Tom recited the first two lines of the chant, and with Lana’s words still echoing in his memory, he inserted the woman’s name at the end with a strong intention.  

Oh, wondrous and powerful Queen Califia!  

Although not religious, Tom found his arms involuntarily spreading apart and reaching out in a gesture of respect to the imaginary figure. He held that position for several moments, but as the weight of his extended arms began to drain his strength, he labored to hold the position. And for a brief moment, he imagined what Moses must have endured in the parting of the Red Sea. Quickly, his mind returned to the present, and hearing nothing outside the norm—just the occasional elephant seal groan between waves crashing on the shoreline—he shook his head. 

Turning around slowly, with a look of resignation on his face, he was surprised by the expression on Gallegos’ face, somewhere between intrigue and rapture. “Look!” the old man said in a loud whisper, pointing away from the Lifeboat Station to an abandoned dry dock. Tom saw the appearance of a charcoal-colored cloud, swirling and changing shape as it slowly meandered in their direction, floating over sands and shallow waters, over the heads of elephant seals looking up at this strange apparition that appeared heading for the two men waiting in wonder. At first he thought it might have been a swarm of flying insects. But then the charcoal cloud paused and while still airborne began to descend slowly onto the grassy area, morphing into a concrete image, a human shape. And when it came to a stop, there before them stood a strikingly beautiful woman, tall, lithe and muscular. She appeared as a tropical island native, with a flimsy bird feather-arrangement tied around her torso to cover her breasts and an otter-pelt apron around the waist; neither of which disguised her bronze-colored skin. 

“Which of you has summoned me from my slumber?” demanded the woman in an imperious voice. 

The old man’s hands trembled as he pointed in Tom’s direction, “It was him, your grace,” he said, with a modest bow of his head. The latter gesture surprised Tom Morrow. 

Tom stepped forward and admitted, “I did. And you would be…?” 

A thin smile formed on the woman’s lips as her eyes narrowed. “You know who I would be, for you have called me with the chant that I gave to one man, many, many cycles ago, in nearly this very spot,” she said with arms open wide. “I am Califia, Queen of California.” It appeared to Tom that she struck an aggressive pose, almost feral, a huntress with a warrior spirit.  

Tom found himself whispering under his breath, like an involuntary gasp, “My god…she is the spitting image of Beyonc é .”  

“What did you say just now?” she addressed the man with a hint of intemperance. 

Tom felt flummoxed at the direct challenge by this woman. She appeared to be almost his height, approximately two inches shy of six feet, with a physique that rivaled that of a modern Olympic athlete: well-toned biceps, thigh and calf muscles that implied a year-round course of weight lifting and distance running. And her dark brown eyes and skin tone invited comparisons to loamy, fertile earth. But it was her regal bearing belying supreme confidence that he found most intimidating. She appeared as a goddess from Egyptian mythology. “No, I was merely observing that it seems fitting that your image is …  beyond saying.” He grimaced, knowing the rejoinder was impossibly clunky and nonsensical. But it bought a few moments of time. 

Martín Gallegos slid off of the tailgate and down to the ground without any assistance. He walked up to the woman, animated and unafraid. “So, you are Queen Califia, the one my ancestor Ricardo Castañeda spoke of in the map he created on these very shores.” 

“I helped him create that map,” she said with a bemused smile. “And you are his descendant? I see no similarity,” she said, towering over the elder Hispanic man. 

The woman from the Lifeboat Station approached. “Fellas,” she called, “I’m going to have to have to ask you to …” She stopped at the white wooden railing when she spotted Califia. “I didn’t remember seeing a woman in your cab earlier.” 

“We met her just a few minutes ago, an old friend,” Tom said. “She came walking up the beach.” 

The station attendant gazed at Califia. “Well, ma’am I’m sure you know that you’re not supposed to be on these beaches, as we can’t allow people to scare the seals.” 

“I do not scare the seals; they are my friends,” Califia replied calmly and truthfully. 

“Nevertheless, this is a natural preserve.” Turning back to Tom she added, “So, we’ll need you to vacate now, sir.” 

“Absolutely, much obliged,” Tom said. He waited as the woman turned and walked back in the Station before addressing Califia once more. “Will we see you again?” 

Gallegos sprung forward. “Oh, no, she must come with us. We have much more to discuss. Please,” he said, gesturing to the open passenger door of the truck. “You must join us.” He extended his right arm with polite reverence, and seeing the woman nod in assent, walked toward the door and jumped in ahead of her as another sign of respect, that she should have the seat next to the door. Once Califia lifted her lithe limbs into the cab, Tom closed the door and walked around the front of the truck. 

After driving up the hill, and turning back into the parking lot, Tom found an empty space next to the one he had occupied an hour earlier. He backed in so that the tailgate once again faced the taupe-colored bluffs framing the deep blue waters of Drakes Bay. 

For one who had been “slumbering for a great many cycles,” Califia recalled her time spent with Ricardo Castañeda with vivid detail, and apparent fond feeling for the Spanish sailor. 

“The first time we met was just around that bend,” she said, pointing in the direction of where Tom had estimated a cave once existed. “Ricardo appeared just in front of the cave, and was in a most distressed disposition, as I found him attempting to dislodge an object that had been buried in the wet sand between two great rocks. I know that when I exited from the cave he appeared much surprised, as I am quite sure my appearance startled him.” 

Califia interrupted herself, saying she should probably retreat in time for the men to have a better understanding of Ricardo’s story. 

(End sample)