The event was, of course, a thinly veiled attempt to introduce the pupils of the Hopewell Finishing Academy to fitting matches in the form of Southern Michigan Military Academy cadets. There were none of the popular tunes of the day in the repertoire; an entire committee had been assembled to choose a stately program of waltzes for formal dancing.

One concession–indeed the only concession–that the matrons and officers and hangers-on made was that cadets were free to dance with anyone they liked, and quiet conversation was generally permitted. The chaperones were eagle-eyed for any inappropriate touching, and none of the girls or boys were allowed to leave with each other. But they could discuss whatever they liked.

The fifth waltz, Eternal Wizrd by Adrian Wetzler, began. Alan DeVries, a cadet from the DeVries financier family out of Detroit, was dancing with Edith Carrington of the Battle Creek Carringtons. Alan had seen the Edith with a coy smile and a distant look on her face and, intrigued, held out his arm.

“What do you think of the latest fashions coming out of London this season, Miss Carrington?” Alan asked, hoping to stimulate conversation on a topic that the fairer sex would find interesting.

“I’m told that I am wearing them,” laughed Edith, “but otherwise I really couldn’t care less. Tell me, Mr. DeVries, what is the last book that you read?”

Alan bit his lip. “Er, Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott. It’s required reading for all first-years.”

Edith ostentateously batted her dark eyes. “And what year are you, Mr. DeVries?”

“A sixth year, Miss Carrington.”

“Lovely, truly lovely,” said Edith. “May I regale you with a book that I re-read recently, Mr. DeVries?”

Alan did not feel qualified to speak on a topic that interested him so little, but…for all her cheek, Miss Carrington’s dark hair and slim figure were very pretty. “Please do, Miss Carrington.”

“It’s called Folk Stories of the Spanish Conquest, by one Mr. Pierre Richat, and it collects stories and tales from the conquest of the New World.”

“Oh,” said Alan with a relieved smile. “Grand stories, I’m sure, of the conquistadors’ noble deeds.”

“Stories and tales of the Indians and their descendents, Mr. DeVries, not the conquistadors,” Edith laughed. “One of the tales in particular, that of Princess Eréndira of the Purépecha, has long fascinated me. Are you familiar with it?”

Alan cast a longing look about the dance floor, to the other couples waltzing silently or talking about fashion. “I don’t know that I am, Miss Carrigton.”

“Princess Eréndira was daughter of the king of the Purépecha people of Mexico. Although her father surrendered to the Spanish she resolved to defeat them, and defeat them she did. Would you like to know how?”

A military story seemed like it might be tolderable, so Alan nodded in the affirmative. “I have a passing curiosity, Miss Carrington.”

The waltz began to build to its cresdendo, and the whirling couples on the floor were suddenly faster, almost dizzying. “She learned the ways of the Spanish, taking their horses and their arms and studying them so that she knew how they worked. Princess Eréndira picked apart the machine that had been set up to oppress and conquer her, and she learned its inner workings. She learned how best to defeat it by stabbing deep at its soft spots even as she appeared to the Spaniards to be an ineffectual savage.”

“And…what happened to her?” Alan said, utterly mystified by Edith’s tone.

“Well, no one is quite sure. Some say she went into hiding, others that she married a priest. I have my own theory.”

“What is that?”

“It is that she learned all she could from those who would conquer her, used that information to destroy them, and then fell in with someone who shared her beliefs. And together, they raised a generation that would give way to another, and another, each stronger than the last, until the yoke of the conquestadors was thrown off for good.”

The music came to an end. Alan seperated from Edith. He gave her a bow, she a curtsey.

“A…delightful tale, Miss Carrington,” said he. He disappeared into the mass of cadets before much else could be said.

“Pity,” laughed Edith to herself.

On cue, the Hopewell Chamber Orchestra struck up a fresh waltz, and cadets once more went in search of ladies to dance with. Alan could be seen repeating presumably wild stories, complete with gestures, of Edith to his fellows.

But, as she made her way back to the wall, another of the cadets stepped forward. “Tell me, miss,” he said. “Are you familiar with the old tale of Arminius?”

“You mean,” said Edith, eyes glittering, “the German who got himself a Roman military education so he could smash Caesar’s armies at the Teutoberg Forest?”

“The very same. May I have this dance?”

“You may indeed, cadet,” said Edith. “You may indeed.”

Inspired by the song ‘Erendira’ by Hiroki Kikuta, released under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license.

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Manuel Exposito had risen from extremely humble origins to become one of the preeminent sculptors in the cultural flowering of 1920s and early 1930s Spain, a movement that was inextricable from the turmoil of Alfonso XIII’s late reign and the Second Republic. While he had trained under Gonzalez and inherited the latter’s love of traditionally unorthodox materials and designs, Exposito also worked extensively with stone and was willing to partake in traditional sculpted forms that many of his Cubist and avant-garde contemporaries shunned. Hence he worked without irony on the Our Lady of the Ebro marble statue at the same time as the wrought iron and quartz Howl of the Liberation. His pieces tended to include bits of classical sculpture emerging from cubist or art deco conglomorations of lines, shapes, and figures.

When the Civil War broke out, Exposito offered his services to the Republic. Wary of sending a sculptor of some international renown to the front lines, Exposito was instead commissioned to make a morale-boosting sculpture in Madrid from non-strategic materials. With the city flooded by left-leaning talent from all over the world, Exposito was able to gather his materials of choice, quartz and glass, and employ several models and fellow sculptors to speed the process. The overall design was of three crystalline female figures emerging from a jumbled chaos of lines and angles representing the war, to be cast in quartz with glass as a structural support.

In the process of completing the sculpture, Exposito apparently fell in love with one of the models: Karin Sandström, a Swedish anarchist who had come to Madrid with her father and brother (the famous Karl and Erik Sandström) to support the Republic. To this day the exact details of the relationship are unclear, but two love letters from Exposito to Sandström survive, the “crystalline muse” letters, so named after their dedication. Small Expositio studies and figures also turned up in the effects of Karl and Erik when they were shipped back to Sweden after their deaths in the Battle of the Ebro.

Karin Sandström died of disease during the death agony of the Republic in early 1939 (sources differ on whether it was dysentery or typhus), while the completed portions of Exposito’s sculpture were destroyed during Casado’s coup and the resulting street fighting between communists and socialists. Devastated, Exposito had to be bodily carried from the city by his assistants to evacuation in Cartagena, and thence to exile in Mexico.

The artist never completed another sculpture; instead, he immersed himself in amateur geology. In particular, he became a noted authority on quartz crystals and would pay handsomely for specimens sent to him by admirers and correspondents. To anyone who suggested he begin sculpting again, Exposito would only laugh. He declined rehabilitation at the hands of the Francoists, declined to return to Spain after Franco’s death in 1975, and would offer only boilerplate prepared remarks when asked to speak or be interviewed. He also adamantly refused to allow anyone into his studio, insisting that it was only being used for storage.

Upon Manuel Exposito’s death in 1996, at age 98, authorities in Veracruz opened the studio, intending to auction the contents to pay years of rock-hunting debts run up by the sculptor. Inside, they found a massive final sculpture made out of highly polished quartz crystals.

It was a portrait of Karin Sandström, and each crystal was a brushstroke capturing her as she had been in those far-off and dangerous days in Madrid.

Inspired by this image.

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“It’s an overstamp. You see this all the time in weapons that have been captured or changed hands.” Mayotte produced a jeweler’s lens from a drawer under the register and studied the rifle intently for a minute. “The overstamp says ‘Flieger-Selbstlader-Karabiner 15,’ which I think means ‘self-loading aircraft-carbine, 1915.'”

“So it’s a German gun? From World War I?”

“I don’t think so.” Mayotte said, still staring intently at the overstamp. “The magazine’s a snail type, but it’s all wrong for the Germans. The caliber, 7mm Mauser, sounds German, but the Germans only used it for imports and captures.”

Keith squirmed. “You’re leaving me hanging in suspense here.”

“Ah, here we go,” said Mayotte. “‘Fusil Porfirio Diaz, Systema Mondragon, Modelo 1908.’ That’s what the Germans stamped over. ‘Porfirio Diaz Rifle, Mondragon System, Model 1908.’ It’s a Mondragon.”

After a short blank stare, Keith cleared his throat. “No offense, ma’am, but that sounds like something that ought to be breathing fire in a fantasy movie more so than a long arm.”

“It’s Mexican,” Mayotte said. She removed a glove and touched the barrel; the first tingling sensations and images began to flow immediately. “The first semiautomatic rifle ever adopted into service. They were made in Switzerland by SIG but the Mexican Revolution and the fact that the rifles don’t much like dirt and rough handling got the order canceled.”

“And the Germans?” said Keith, eying Mayotte’s faraway expression with some unease.

The roar of a radial engine, the howl of the wind with the brutal nip of a few thousand feet altitude… “The Swiss sold them to the Germans,” Mayotte murmured. Her pupils visibly dilated as she talked. “They gave them to observers in two-seater biplanes to defend themselves.”

“And?

Racking the action, taking aim across the sights and the wind and the world at the French bastards, who’d been good enough to paint a bright target on the side of their plane… “Let’s see what she can tell us,” Mayotte whispered.

Jorge’s note, written in an angry hand and a combination of his native Spanish and English, accused Emile of stealing their parents’ affections, possessions, and just about everything else it was possible for one sibling to steal from another. Jorge insisted that his status as an adoptee, compared to Emile being natural born, was the dark secret behind why the younger brother always “gets mas than” the elder.

Emile wrote a rebuttal in a fine flowing hand, but it was returned unopened–whether because Jorge had refused to accept it or because he no longer lived at that address was never clear. Emile displayed the letter in his home, so that Jorge would see it if he ever deigned to return. Whether the letter–which was magnanimous and understanding to the point of being syrupy–was the actual one that had been mailed or a later invention no one who saw it could say.

When Jorge returned, though, it was through the rear window.

The chain had been founded in Lost Angeles, according to the brochure we all had to read (and were tested on!) during employee training, by one Jonathan Patort. Judging by his name he was about as Mexican as Mother Theresa, but apparently he’d hung in as CEO or stockholder for the company until they were popular enough that changing the name would have represented an unacceptable reduction in brand awareness.

In many ways, though, it was a fitting moniker, since the food we served was also about as Mexican as Mother Theresa’s Albanian gjellë. The key dish, and the one with which Señor Patort’s had made its bones, was a quesadilla grilled in such a way that none of its innards would leak out until the first bite was taken, making it perfect to-go food. Never mind that the grilling process took a $5,000 custom machine that your average Mexican was unlikely to own, or that the primary cheese in the mixture was Swiss, or that the thick slabs of bacon floating in said Swiss were unlikely to be found anywhere south of Canada.