It was a sad moment in Magnus Bane’s life when he was banned from Peru by the High Council of Peruvian warlocks. It was not just because the posters with a picture of him that were passed around Downworld in Peru were so wildly unflattering. It was because Peru was one of his favorite places. He had had many adventures there, and had many wonderful memories, starting with the time in 1791 when he had invited Ragnor Fell to join him for a festive sightseeing escape in Lima.
Magnus awoke in his roadside inn just outside Lima, and once he had arrayed himself in an embroidered waistcoat, breeches, and shining buckled shoes, he went in search of breakfast. Instead he found his hostess, a plump woman whose long hair was covered with a black mantilla, in a deep, troubled conference with one of the serving girls about a recent arrival to the inn.
"I think it’s a sea monster," he heard his hostess whisper. "Or a merman. Can they survive on land?"
"Good morning, ladies," Magnus called out. "Sounds like my guest has arrived."
Both women blinked twice. Magnus put the first blink down to his vivid attire, and the second, slower blink down to what he had just said. He gave them both a cheery wave and wandered out through wide wooden doors and across the courtyard into the common room, where he found his fellow warlock Ragnor Fell skulking in the back of the room with a mug of chicha de molle.
"I’ll have what he’s having," Magnus said to the serving lady. "No, wait a moment. I’ll have three of what he’s having."
"Tell them I’ll have the same," said Ragnor. "I achieved this drink only through some very determined pointing."
Magnus did, and when he returned his gaze to Ragnor, he saw that his old friend was looking his usual self: hideously dressed, deeply gloomy, and deeply green of skin. Magnus often gave thanks that his own warlock’s mark was not so obvious. It was sometimes inconvenient to have the gold-green, slit-pupilled eyes of a cat, but this was usually easily hidden with a small glamour, and if not, well, there were quite a few ladies – and men – who didn’t find it a drawback.
"No glamour?" Magnus inquired.
"You said that you wanted me to join you on travels that would be a ceaseless round of debauchery," Ragnor told him.
Magnus beamed. "I did!" He paused. "Forgive me. I do not see the connection."
"I have found I have better luck with the ladies in my natural state," Ragnor told him. "Ladies enjoy a bit of variety. There was a woman in the court of Louis the Sun King who said none could compare to her ‘dear little cabbage.’ I hear it’s become quite a popular term of endearment in France. All thanks to me."
He spoke in the same glum tones as usual. When the six drinks arrived, Magnus seized on them.
"I’ll be needing all of these. Please bring more for my friend."
"There was also a woman who referred to me as her sweet peapod of love," Ragnor continued.
Magnus took a deep restorative swallow, looked at the sunshine outside and the drinks before him, and felt better about the entire situation. "Congratulations. And welcome to Lima, the City of Kings, my sweet peapod."
After breakfast, which was five drinks for Ragnor and seventeen for Magnus, Magnus took Ragnor on a tour of Lima, from the golden, curled, and carved façade of the archbishop’s palace to the brightly colored buildings across the plaza, with their practically mandatory elaborate balconies, where the Spanish had once executed criminals.
"I thought it would be nice to start in the capital. Besides, I’ve been here before," Magnus said. "About fifty years ago. I had a lovely time, aside from the earthquake that almost swallowed the city."
"Did you have something to do with that earthquake?"
"Ragnor," Magnus reproached his friend. "You cannot blame me for every little natural disaster that happens!"
"You didn’t answer the question," Ragnor said, and sighed. "I am relying on you to be . . . more reliable and less like you than you usually are," he warned as they walked. "I don’t speak the language."
"So you don’t speak Spanish?" Magnus asked. "Or you don’t speak Quechua? Or is it that you don’t speak Aymara?"
Magnus was perfectly aware he was a stranger everywhere he went, and he took care to learn all the languages so he could go anywhere he chose. Spanish had been the first language that he had learned to speak, after his native language. That was the one tongue he did not speak often. It reminded him of his mother, and his stepfather – reminded him of the love and the prayer and despair of his childhood. The words of his homeland rested a little too heavily on his tongue, as if he had to mean them, had to be serious, when he spoke.
(There were other languages – Purgatic and Gehennic and Tartarian – that he had learned so that he could communicate with those from the demon realms, languages he was forced to use often in his line of work. But those reminded him of his blood father, and those memories were even worse.)
Sincerity and gravity, in Magnus’s opinion, were highly overrated, as was being forced to relive unpleasant memories. He would much rather be amused and amusing.
"I don’t speak any of the things that you just said," Ragnor told him. "Although, I must speak Prattling Fool, since I can understand you."
"That is hurtful and unnecessary," Magnus observed. "But of course, you can trust me completely."
"Just don’t leave me here without guidance. You have to swear, Bane."
Magnus raised his eyebrows. "I give you my word of honor!"
"I will find you," Ragnor told him. "I will find whatever chest of absurd clothes you have. And I will bring a llama into the place where you sleep and make sure that it urinates on everything you possess."
"There is no need to get nasty about this," Magnus said. "Don’t worry. I can teach you every word that you need to know right now. One of them is ‘fiesta.’"
Ragnor scowled. "What does that mean?"
Magnus raised his eyebrows. "It means ‘party.’ Another important word is ‘juerga.’"
"What does that word mean?"
Magnus was silent.
"Magnus," said Ragnor, his voice stern. "Does that word also mean ‘party’?"
Magnus could not help the sly grin that spread across his face. "I would apologize," he said. "Except that I feel no regret at all."
"Try to be a little sensible," Ragnor suggested.
"We’re on holiday!" said Magnus.
"You’re always on holiday," Ragnor pointed out. "You’ve been on holiday for thirty years!"
It was true. Magnus had not been settled anywhere since his lover died – not his first lover, but the first one who had lived by his side and died in his arms. Magnus had thought of her often enough that the mention of her did not hurt him, her remembered face like the distant familiar beauty of stars, not to be touched but to shine in front of his eyes at night.
"I can’t get enough adventure," Magnus said lightly. "And adventure cannot get enough of me."
He had no idea why Ragnor sighed again.
Ragnor’s suspicious nature continued to make Magnus very sad and disappointed in him as a person, such as when they visited Lake Yarinacocha and Ragnor’s eyes narrowed as he demanded: "Are those dolphins pink?"
"They were pink when I got here!" Magnus exclaimed indignantly. He paused and considered. "I am almost certain."
They went from costa to sierra seeing all the sights of Peru. Magnus’s favorite was perhaps the city of Arequipa, a piece of the moon, made of sillar rock that when touched by the sun blazed as dazzling and scintillating a white as moonlight striking water.
There was a very attractive young lady there too, but in the end she decided she preferred Ragnor. Magnus could have lived his whole long life without becoming involved in a warlock love triangle, or hearing the endearment "adorable pitcher plant of a man" spoken in French, which Ragnor did understand. Ragnor, however, seemed very pleased and for the first time did not seem to regret that he’d come when Magnus had summoned him to Lima.
In the end Magnus was able to persuade Ragnor away from Arequipa only by introducing him to another lovely young lady, Giuliana, who knew her way in the rain forest and assured them both that she would be able to lead them to ayahuasca, a plant with remarkable magical properties.
Later Magnus had cause to regret choosing this particular lure as he pulled himself through the green swathes of the Manu rain forest. It was all green, green, green, everywhere he looked. Even when he looked at his traveling companion.
"I don’t like the rain forest," Ragnor said sadly.
"That’s because you are not open to new experiences in the same way I am!"
"No, it is because it is wetter than a boar’s armpit and twice as smelly here."
Magnus pushed a dripping frond out of his eyes. "I admit you make an excellent point and also paint a vivid picture with your words."
It was not comfortable in the rain forest, that much was true, but it was wonderful there all the same. The thick green of the undergrowth was different from the delicate leaves on trees higher up, the bright feathery shapes of some plants gently waving at the ropelike strands of others. The green all around was broken up by sudden bright interruptions: the vivid splash of flowers and the rush of movement that meant animals instead of leaves.
Magnus was especially charmed by the sight of the spider monkeys above, dainty and glossy with long arms and legs spread out in the trees like stars, and the shy swift spring of squirrel monkeys.
"Picture this," said Magnus. "Me with a little monkey friend. I could teach him tricks. I could dress him in a cunning jacket. He could look just like me! But more monkey-shaped."
"Your friend has gone mad and giddy with the altitude sickness," Giuliana announced. "We are many feet above sea level here."
Magnus was not entirely sure why he had brought a guide, except that it seemed to calm Ragnor down. Other people probably dutifully followed their guides in unfamiliar and potentially dangerous places, but Magnus was a warlock and fully prepared to have a magical battle with a jaguar demon if that was required. It would be an excellent story, which might impress some of the ladies who were not inexplicably allured by Ragnor. Or some of the gentlemen.
Lost in picking fruit and in the contemplation of jaguar demons, Magnus looked around at one point and found himself separated from his companions – lost in the green wilderness.
He paused and admired the bromeliads, huge iridescent flowers like bowls made out of petals, shimmering with color and water. There were frogs inside the jewel-bright recesses of the flowers.
Then he looked up into the round brown eyes of a monkey.
"Hello, companion," said Magnus.
The monkey made a terrible sound, half snarl and half hiss.
"I begin to rather doubt the beauty of our friendship," said Magnus.
Giuliana had told them not to back down when approached by monkeys, but to stay still and preserve an air of calm authority. This monkey was much larger than the other monkeys Magnus had seen, with broader bunched shoulders and thick, almost black fur – a howler monkey, Magnus remembered they were called.
Magnus threw the monkey a fig. The monkey took the fig.
"There," said Magnus. "Let us consider the matter settled."
The monkey advanced, chewing in a menacing fashion.
"I rather wonder what I am doing here. I enjoy city life, you know," Magnus observed. "The glittering lights, the constant companionship, the liquid entertainment. The lack of sudden monkeys."
He ignored Giuliana’s advice and took a smart step back, and also threw another piece of fruit. The monkey did not take the bait this time. He coiled and rattled out a growl, and Magnus took several more steps back and into a tree.
Magnus flailed on impact, was briefly grateful that nobody was watching him and expecting him to be a sophisticated warlock, and had a monkey assault launched directly to his face.
He shouted, spun, and sprinted through the rain forest. He did not even think to drop the fruit. It fell one by one in a bright cascade as he ran for his life from the simian menace. He heard it in hot pursuit and fled faster, until all his fruit was gone and he ran right into Ragnor.
"Have a care!" Ragnor snapped.
"In my defense, you are quite well camouflaged," Magnus pointed out, and then he detailed his terrible monkey adventure twice, once for Giuliana in Spanish, and again for Ragnor in English.
"But of course you should have retreated at once from the dominant male," Giuliana said. "Are you an idiot? You are extremely lucky he was distracted from ripping out your throat by the fruit. He thought you were trying to steal his females."
"Pardon me, but we did not have the time to exchange that kind of personal information," Magnus said. "I could not have known! Moreover, I wish to assure both of you that I did not make any amorous advances on female monkeys." He paused and winked. "I didn’t actually see any, so I never got the chance."
Ragnor looked very regretful about all the choices that had led to his being in this place and especially in this company. Later he stooped and hissed, low enough so Giuliana could not hear and in a way that reminded Magnus horribly of his monkey nemesis: "Did you forget that you can do magic?"
Magnus spared a moment to toss a disdainful look over his shoulder.
"I am not going to ensorcel a monkey! Honestly, Ragnor. What do you take me for?"
Life could not be entirely devoted to debauchery and monkeys. Magnus had to finance all the drinking somehow. There was always a Downworlder network to be found, and he had made sure to make the right contacts as soon as he’d set foot in Peru.
When his particular expertise was called for, he brought Ragnor with him. They boarded the ship in the Salaverry harbor together, both dressed in their greatest finery. Magnus was wearing his largest hat, with an ostrich feather plume.
Edmund García, one of the richest merchants in Peru, met them on the foredeck. He was a man with a florid complexion, dressed in an expensive-looking cassock, knee breeches, and a powdered wig. An engraved pistol hung from his leather belt. He squinted at Ragnor. "Is that a sea monster?" he demanded.