Juan Diego Nunez del Balboa
Tall, lean, archaeologist and free thinker
Juan is first and foremost an explorer and adventurer. Confident in his skills and knowledge, he rarely allows events to ruffle his calm demeanor. While proficient with both blade and firearm, he sees them as tools of last resort, preferring to use his words and wiles to avoid confrontation.
Tall and lean, he is generally attired in utilitarian clothes, most commonly covered by a long leather coat, with dozens of pockets and straps for holding a variety of small tools and trinkets. He disdains style and fashion as artificial constructs of people seeking validation based on meaningless ornamentation. He wears his hair short, in the same style it was when he was a young man, simply because changing it would require thought which he would rather devote to thinking about more significant matters.
His time among the upper classes and “nobility” have convinced him that they will all crumble under the weight of their own ineptitude, greed, and ignorance. The current war between Montaigne and Castille may be a tipping point. As the war wears on, the drain on the man power and resource of both countries will grow. The crucible of war refine both countries, removing the dross of incompetent leadership given positions due to heredity, and allowing skilled and intelligent men of any status to rise. Juan plans on being in the vanguard of this new social order, and seeks to make a name for himself such that he may be an example for other non-nobles to emulate.
Hail and well met, good reader. Why well met you ask? Well how else shall I greet one who has shown the perspicacity to open this publication, the shrewd and discerning intellect to distinguish its merit above the other traveler’s tomes and sojourner’s journals? Know that you hold in your hands the gateway to the world – a portal through which you will experience travels, travails, and triumphs without ever leaving the surety of your own domicile. For within these pages are recounted the days and deeds of one of the greatest adventurers and explorers of this Golden Age of reason and discovery – Juan Diego Nunez de Balboa – a man who came from humble stock, but through ingenuity, labor and a dash of luck rose to be counted among the great men of this age.
But how, dear reader, did such a man come to be? And can his story be a guide to others who seek to assert their worth regardless of heritage or family name? The answer to the first question, you shall read shortly. The answer to the second we shall not find out until the end of this narrative. But first, as with all stories, I must begin at the beginning.
I was born the only child of Carlos and Roxanne Diego in the small village of Balboa, nestled among the foot hills west of the great Cordillera Cantábrica mountains. Balboa straddles a trade route between Vaticine City and Numa, and provided endless curiosities for a young boy who had too much energy to sit through school and too much intelligence to shackled behind a plow in the field. My parents managed the finest inn within a day’s ride in any direction, and was the first intervention of fate in my favor, for every night I would drift to sleep hearing endless conversations in strange accents and my dreams were crafted by the tales of these travelers, pilgrims, and traders.
I grew to be a tall lad, but not gifted with great strength or fortitude. But what I lacked in physical gifts, I more than made up for in attitude and intellect. While the girls of Balboa did not flutter their fans with false modesty at my approach, as I grew into my lanky frame I had my share of romance. My ebony hair, naturally wavy, was cut short in the style of the traders of Puerto de Sur, a style I still favor to this day. The steady gaze of my eyes, the color of which matched the cadmium hues of the pine forests around me, and the clear cadence of my baritone voice often convinced those I encountered that I was a person of purpose, and a man of greater years and experience that I truly was. I have learned that one can dare much if they dare with a strong voice and bold initiative: a dithering don attracts less support than a decisive dyer.
Despite the admonitions of my parents, I was often found pestering the travelling merchants, seeking stories of their farthest journeys. While I did learn my letters in the small school of Balboa, my real instruction was taken at the feet of these roving traders. In my 15th year, I declared myself a man, and with the best wishes of my father and tears of my mother, I joined a caravan headed west to Vacticine City. I traveled with a man whom had known our family for years, Agustin del Avila, a wealthy and influential merchant who owed my father a favor, and so my future seemed assured.
However, my dreams of being immediately recognized as a prodigy of commercial endeavors and made an immediate member of the trading guild were short lived. Our caravan was beset by a group of Eisen raiders, claiming themselves to be a Free Company, and demanding our valuables. Agustin attempted to rally the caravan’s guards but was split in twain by the Eisen leader, Maximillian Horst. It was not the first time that ignorance and barbarism, backed by a surplus of muscle, overcame intelligence and gentility, and it wasn’t the last, but it was the most consequential for my life, as I was forced to flee into country side to escape with my life.
So it was that I entered Vaticine City, a penniless but determined young man, with no immediate prospects, but too proud to return home without either adventures or a name. The next couple years were passed in the alleys and inns of Vaticine City, learning tricks and skills outside the curricula of the traditional Castillian education system. Despite my desire and drive, my story may have ended in those shadowed streets if not for the second great intervention of fate.
One day I was in the market looking to relieve a careless merchant of a trinket or two (for such was the way I put food in my belly and a roof over my head) when I heard an exchange between a Castillian lord and a Vodacce trader. The Vodacce was attempting to sell a porcelain vase of Cathayan origin and purported to be of the Tsung dynasty, and having nearly closed the deal for a princely ransom, he was not amused by my intervention. However, tales of far off Cathay were especially dear in my younger years, and I had long ago memorized the near endless processions of dynasties. I could not help myself from pointing out to the merchant the obvious inconsistency between his dating of the porcelain and the stylized representation found on the reverse of the piece of Moua Hu-Zwen, military leader of the Nanchin rebellion during the much later Xiaphon Dynasty. Faced with this information, the trader quickly reconsidered his asking price, and the noble purchased the vase for a fraction of the original agreement.
The noble was thankful for my timely appearance and asked me how such a young man, obviously living in less than plush surroundings, happened to know such details of distant lands and empires as well as their trade goods. I told him the truth, that while I was familiar with the lore and history of many distant lands, I actually had no knowledge of porcelain nor the artistic proclivities of Cathayan plate makers of the Xiaphon period. In fact, to the best of my knowledge the piece was actually of the Tsung dynasty, and rather than a reward of praise and patronization, I asked the noble to resell the piece at the market for its actual value and split the profits with me. With a roar of laughter, the man clasped my shoulder and exclaimed, “By the coming of the Fourth Prophet, here is a man with a mind as quick as a cobra and the balls of Miura bull!” He then gave me the vase and said I could do with it as I wished, as he had already received his share of profit from such an unexpected encounter.
I took the vase and left before the man could reconsider. All day I wandered the market looking for a mark to buy the vase. However, as the hours wore on, I noticed that despite identifying several likely buyers, I was still holding on to the piece, reluctant to make my score. I realized that I could not sell the vase and rob the original merchant of his money – it was one thing to take a bauble or trinket to sell for the evening’s bread when my stomach was rumbling; it was another thing entirely to take a year’s wage from the pocket of an honest trader, even if it promised me wealth and stability. As the market was closing, I found the merchant, and explained that my patron, the cardinal, had another expert examine the plate and determined that it was of Tsung origin. Unable to accept such an item purchased under false pretense, he asked me to return it, in exchange for the nominal price he had purchased it for. The merchant unleased a verbal torrent upon me for intervening and sowing doubt on his merchandise and honor. He cursing me, my family lineage on both sides back at least ten generations, and any offspring I may have down to another ten generations, but he did take back the vase and give me back the comparatively small price paid. My conscious clear, I quickly departed, paid for a fine dinner and a comfortable room and slept well.
The next morning as I was coming down to the main hall, I was surprised to see the noble seated at a table in the center of the room, being attended to most attentively by the inn-keeper. As I approached with growing suspicion and some apprehension, he turned to me and raised his arms in greeting. As he did so, his cloak parted and to my amazement, I saw the robes of a cardinal of the church. He said that he was very surprised this morning when the merchant showed up at his residence, once again offering the vase, explaining that he was still interested in selling this piece for the original price should the cardinal be willing. He asked the merchant how he came into possession of another piece so quickly given its rarity, and in mutual confusion they sorted out the truth of the matter. Once that was settled, the cardinal did purchase the vase, and then set out to discover my location.
Asking people in low places, and offering rewards for information, he was quickly able to discover tales of my profligate spending of the night before, and came here to meet me upon my late rising. He then introduced himself as Cardinal Ferdinand Nunez, and asked me to sit and consider an offer. The Cardinal said that he needed someone that can think on his feet and isn’t afraid to speak his mind; the church is full of sycophants, and getting a reasoned opinion contrary to what the cardinal expresses is often impossible. While he was impressed and amused by my display the day before, he could never consider working closely with someone of such low morals. However, my show of conscience in the return of the plate had wiped away his concerns. He said he recognized intelligent men from all statuses, and would like to offer me a spot in the Castillean University in Vaticine City. In exchange, I would work for him in various and sundry ways, until such time as I was ready to begin another career with my newly acquired skills. Thus I began an association with one of the greatest men I shall ever know, whose name I bear in honor of his memory.
The next couple years flew by as I was soaking up all I could at the Castillean University in Vaticine City, the greatest institute of learning in the world. The fundamentals of logic, rhetoric, law, and natural law were the core of my education, supplemented by courses in geography and history. Cardinal Nunez checked in on me frequently, making sure his investments in me were not going to waste. Occasionally, he would have a job for me – anything from running errands in the less desirable part of the city to listening in on a case in the ecclesiastic court and privately giving my reflections on its merits. Over time, I continued to grow in his confidence, and he entrusted me with more and greater responsibilities.
That I had an influential patron was known at the University, and while it may have given me some advantages in access to certain lecturers or resources, it did not influence any of the Masters when assigning my marks. This was, however, never accepted by all my peers.
To be continued…