The four of them rode down into East LA with a sack of gold coins and four centuries of failure. They were bearded, their armor rusted, their leather implements blanched by the sun. Their horses were Mustangs of a chestnut color. They’d been dispatched by a military governor with twelve surnames yet had encountered nothing in the deserts of Alta California but Indians, soldiers, prospectors, hippies, smugglers, border cops, and immigrants—which is to say, no major cities—until 2013. The people of the present, the people of Los Angeles, didn’t quite know what to make of them. Mothers called their children to the curb; the elderly shuffled back inside; the kids all cheered, excited as they were by the horses and guns and armor.
“This land has no metals of value,” said the Valencian.
The speaker was proud and brash; he spat in the street, reared his horse, and barged into a mom-and-pop on the corner of Whittier and Bradshawe. The clerk drew a Colt .45 and said, “No pets in the store, motherfucker.”
The Valencian announced, “I require water for my men, water that is neither thick nor brackish, and then you shall direct me to your imperium.”
He said this in the Spanish of Cervantes, an archaic gutturality peppered with all kinds of fiery Catholicisms, of which the Honduran-American shopkeeper understood only about five percent. The shopkeeper fired a bullet that glanced off the intruder’s armor and caused sparks to descend from the ceiling. The Valencian calmly exited the establishment and informed his co-conquerors that he had been fired upon. The four of them dismounted, loaded their harquebuses, and reentered the store, whereupon they directed deafening blasts in the direction of the counter. But the clerk had already exited through the back door in search of his cousin, a murderer, so luckily nobody was injured.
Among the others, the Sevillian was lazy and handsome and preferred the company of local women to that of his countrymen. The Segovian, by contrast, was stern and humorless, excited only by his hatred of Muslims, which, it must be said, was driven only by his objection to their use of noise in prayer. The fourth horseman was a quiet bastard of unknown name and origin who was called, inevitably, El Portugués. El Portugués had once desired to be a farmer but was forced into military service in order to pay off a debt incurred by the lord of his manor. El Portugués did not care for the Americas.
The four of them remounted and rode up into the hills on the banks of the LA River. The LAPD, equipped only with men and cars, were unable to pursue the horses when they arrived on the scene.
“Fuck,” said the responding officer.
“Who cares, I hate animals,” said his partner.
The party arrived at the river and found the water neither thick nor brackish but merely filled with trash. The four men and their horses drank eagerly. Skyscrapers stood to the southwest in a dreamy haze. The men turned their attention to their 400-year-old plan. One might speculate on how they believed it possible to conquer such a sprawling city as Los Angeles. But that’s just how Spaniards of their generation thought of the world: four of us, a million of them, we got this.
“I shall raise a force among the locals,” declared the Valencian. “Those who pay tribute to this power will assist in its conquest.”
The Segovian said, “I shall ride into the center and subdue the elders with the true faith.”
“I shall ride west, to the ocean,” said the Sevillian. “We must know the boundaries of this land.”
El Portugués gazed across the river where a council of bums was breaking apart a rotisserie chicken. He didn’t really want to get back on his horse. “I shall remain here.”
And so the first three rode off in their separate directions. The Valencian traveled to the 110 corridor in South Central where he hoped to recruit a force of warriors; the Sevillian set out for Santa Monica in pursuit of women and, grudgingly, the Pacific ocean; and the Segovian cantered into downtown in search of the central temple. The invasion had begun.
El Portugués led his horse across the river to speak with the local inhabitants.
“Will you share of your provisions? I’ve not eaten today.”
The bums did not speak LA Spanish, let alone the rotten-britches Medieval version, and so did not understand a word. Nonetheless, they offered up a drumstick for a soldier in need.
“You all filming a movie?” asked one.
“You gone sweat your balls off in that costume,” said another.
“A strange tongue, this,” El Portugués said to himself, tearing into the meat.
The two bums had likewise been forced into military service against the plans they’d once had for themselves. But there was no way for the visitor to know this. For now, the three of them could only break apart a bird and share the foul breeze until the evening called for a fire. And so El Portugués removed his boots and soaked his feet in the river as his horse nibbled at a bit of unloved vegetation. Airplanes descended like angels overhead and the freeway roared at his back. He’d grown to see war as the noblest pursuit, but perhaps his comrades, riding wildly into the metropolitan unknown, might yet find peace in this new land.
Devon Bixler was raised in Blacksburg, Virginia and studied at NYU. He lives in Los Angeles.