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Columbus Must Die
An Alternate History
I awake suddenly in a state of panic and confusion with no idea why. The air is finally cool, with the red rays of dawn poking through the chinks in the shelter’s walls where the upright logs come together. It seems I had been asleep but minutes, even though I had fallen asleep the previous afternoon, and it takes a few moments to remember even where I am. The lay of the shelter and the sleeping forms of my companions bring it all back in a rush… I am in a new world, across the Atlantic from my home and family in Jerez, Spain. I strain my senses to determine what has awoken me. I believe I might have heard cutoff cries and perhaps even gunfire. I sit up quickly and listen intently, yet hear nothing but the crackle of a distant fire.
I had been sleeping fitfully since our arrival, awakening frequently during the nights from troubled dreams or from strange new noises in a strange new land.
I am vaguely, drowsily amazed that I had slept through the night, having intended just a few hours rest the previous afternoon. In my deep exhaustion following the past week of almost un-relieved effort and striving, I lie back down and start to drift off, and notice stupidly that the early light of dawn was shimmering red and gold. Only a dream…
Just before full sleep, my mind clicks on the fact that it is now utterly, unnaturally silent, as if the whole world is holding its breath. No birds, no buzz of insects… nothing but the fire that, even as I listen, gains in intensity. As my mind begins to clear the cobwebs of sleep away, I realize that the light is coming from the wrong direction to be dawn. I jump up with a start once again, much more alert this time, and pull my clothes to me. I pad quietly across the sand floor of towards the doorway, hoping to not awaken my companions, although they are beginning to stir some. Looking out on the Bay of Marién, on the Island of Hispaniola, I am stunned by what I see…
Like the pillar of fire that led the Israelites through the desert, a gigantic blaze from one of many ships in the shelter of the cove shoots hundreds of feet skyward, completely illuminating the frozen battle scene below.
Then pandemonium breaks loose.
Part One – España
Francisco de Las Casas - Spring 1493
I am Francisco de Las Casas, youngest son of Captain Hernan de Las Casas, a soldier of Spain. I am aide to Señor Columbus, newly made Admiral of the Ocean Sea. We sailed from Seville, in the Kingdom of Castile six weeks ago with 1200 men, 17 boats, horses, cattle, pigs and poultry. We return to the Indies to expand the settlement of Navidad, Hispaniola, where this past fall, Admiral Colón had left a cousin of his late wife, a Captain Martinez, in charge of the thirty nine men he had left behind. We would build a large settlement there, establish farms in the lush green valleys and hills, and bring Christ to the gentle natives. From there, we would find our way to the Cathay of Marco Polo, perhaps Cipango, a large, almost mythical Island to the east, and the Spice Islands.
As the youngest of three brothers, I had been slated to enter the Church, but my father, seeing my adventurous spirit (and eye for a pretty girl), helped me to secure a place with this grand journey of exploration, settlement, trade, and spread of the Church to a very friendly, generous and open people, if Admiral Colón was to be believed.
Only seven months earlier, I had sat with my father in our family home in Jerez, south on the Guadalquivir River from Sevilla, Spain. We were talking quietly in the coolness of his salon, the large gathering room of the main residence. It was a hot, still afternoon. The windows were shuttered, letting in some light, but none of the heat of the afternoon sun. The spicy sweet scent of Jasmine and orange blossom, the constant background sizzle of the Cicada and the coolness of the room when it was so hot outside had a somnolent, hypnotic effect.
The fountain in the courtyard could be heard splashing quietly and a few sparrows braved the late afternoon heat, their soft calls to one another from the shade of the trees echoing in the stillness.
The runoff from the fountain poured into channels that ran into the house. I watched as the water lazily flowed in these cuts into the polished stone floor only a few inches deep and twice as wide that ran four feet in from the walls of the salon. Water constantly flowed in warmer months and cooled the room. The Romans had discovered long ago that the running water would seep into the rock and evaporate, cooling both the stone and the surrounding air. The quiet whisper of the water would add to the lull… and the day, the year, the world, would seem to stand still, intending to go on like this forever. The sparrows continued their chirping, as they must have done for hundreds or thousands upon thousands of years.
Our large home was Moorish in style. The thick stone walls had deep set windows in tall ceilinged rooms. Intricate woven tapestries adorned the walls. The furnishings were of heavy dark wood with thick comfortable cushions and pillows. The many niches in the walls held statues of St Francis and The Virgin Mary (my mother’s influence) and others with the souvenirs of my father’s military travels, perhaps a vase or ancient bust.
My family had enjoyed our mid-day dinner together, the main meal of the day, of roasted lamb along with a side of chickpeas and lentils in olive oil, a favorite. The lamb was complimented by a green parsley, mint and sage sauce, made with egg yolks, vinegar, walnuts and hazelnuts. A small amount of honey finished it off.
There would always be wine served with this meal, today’s offering had been a young local vintage. Our wines were notoriously sweet, but my father always had some dryer varieties from Biscaya, the bay far to the north. As usual, this was followed by a period of rest or sleep for an hour or two, and then the family would slowly begin to re-emerge.
My father was expecting guests this day and, as usual, I was the first up to join him. My indolent brothers would trudge down in another hour or so, undoubtedly in surly moods and grumbling requests for coffee or perhaps bread and olives.
Although they tormented me, I loved my brothers. We had grown up playing and fighting, as boys like to do and many grand adventures we had. But this hour or so alone with my father was the highlight of my day, and I was glad for their love of sleep. Listening in on his discussions of philosophy, geography or politics with his guests was an extra treat.
My father was my hero, my idol and somehow, my friend as well. My earliest memories were of times spent with him. When he was not off fighting and could spend time with us, we’d often walk through the gardens together. Our ‘Hacienda’ which literally means ‘Place Where Things are Made ’, was the original of the area, and my father thought it had been built over an even older Roman site, due to the pottery shards often found when the soil was tilled. “The Phoenicians, followed by the Greeks, had been in this area thousands of years earlier,” he had told me, “so it was impossible to tell exactly how old the most ancient walls are.”
In earlier times our land comprised the whole of the village and was completely self-contained. Surrounded by a ten foot high, thick stone wall we had an enclosed ten acres. There was a gushing artesian spring running into a beautiful pond that provided water for the gardens, orchards and the house. There were numerous picturesque stone outbuildings for the farm laborers, the smithy, groomsmen and dairy. There was remnant evidence that many other quite small buildings had once existed against the outer wall, it being assumed they had been the homes of the many residents of the fortified village in ancient times.
I recall being a child of eight or so. As we walked about my father would be naming the various plants and their usage while I would be fighting dragons, jins or Moors with whatever stick, piece of trellis or tool that was to hand.
My father had picked an orange, mid-winter when they were at their ripest. I would follow his example as he first smells the fruit, filling his nostrils with its pungent odor, then felt the texture, pointing out the tiny oil bearing pores. He explained about the fruit’s origin in China, its travel to Egypt, perhaps by Alexander the Macedonian, then onto Rome and throughout its Mediterranean empire. “In China the peel is used for most any stomach upset or discomfort. It is why we make a tea from it when we overindulge,” he adds.
Every walk, every conversation was an impromptu lesson in life, geography, history, mathematics or whatever knowledge could be gained or discussed. I never felt I was being lectured to, and he seemed to always have a fascinating story to go along with most any point.
His interactions with others in our village, his treatment of our workers and servants; each was a lesson in politics, judiciousness, statesmanship and leadership, all done without seeming effort. Perhaps it has been said countless times before, but I wanted to be just like him.
My father had recently participated in a great battle that had been fought in the Moorish Emirate of Granada. After a lengthy siege and much negotiation (and a spectacular payment in gold), Prince Boabdil had surrendered that great city and Caliphate to the Christian armies of Isabella and Ferdinand. This Muslim stronghold of Al-Andalus, the Alhambra, had been the last on the Iberian Peninsula (What is now Spain and Portugal).
The Moors, under Tariq ibn-Ziyad, a Berber from The North African Maghreb, had conquered most of the peninsula nearly 800 years before, pushing out the barbarian Germanic Visigoths who had earlier wrested it from Rome.
For many it was clear, Christians are obviously good and doing God’s work, Muslims are bad. The Christians prevailed, therefore all is well. But for others such as my father, who clearly had Berber Warrior blood, as most inhabitants of Iberia did, the departure of the last Calif was the inevitable but sad end of a glorious era.
My father spoke of the wonders of Cordoba, where there were universities, libraries, paved and lighted streets and nine hundred public baths for half a million people, while Paris, Brussels, and Milan wallowed in mud, squalor and ignorance.
“While most of us were living like animals, they were opening Universities and Hospitals. We followed superstitions while they studied and explored science and facts”, he added. “This end to the Caliphate was bound to happen, but we will all lose by their departure.”
But this was a change that had been three centuries in the making, since the end of the eleventh century and the time of ‘El Cid’ when Moorish Spain had reached its zenith. In much of Spain, despite the war, Moors, Jews and Christians had lived side by side in relative tolerance. The great expulsions or conversions and “The Inquisition” were just months in the future, but at this point there was a reasonable expectation for continued, peaceful co-existence. ‘Convivencia’ or ‘live and let live’ was the rule.
Although my father had spent most of his career in helping defeat the last Moorish stronghold, his closest friend and confidant, Fernan de Alcazar, was a converted Moor (who had given up none of his Islamic practices). Isaac Abrabanel, a Jew, and cousin to one of King Ferdinand’s trusted advisers and courtiers, often played chess, or perhaps cards, with both my father and Fernan in this very room. I grew up on their discussions of philosophy, religion, war and history. Often heated and angry, an outsider might think these three the most bitter of enemies. I learned much more from these debates than from any other source.
But now it was just my father and I, in the cool and quiet of the room. There was a clinking of ceramic from the next room as Arianna, the young daughter of our serving woman worked. The aroma of brewing coffee was soon layered onto the orange and jasmine, combining beautifully.
“There is to be a grand journey”, my father began in his quiet yet sonorous voice, “A journey by sea to the far eastern lands… by heading west of all things!” He let that comment hang there…
This brought to mind recent discussions these few recently of Admiral Colón’s voyage of this past fall, in late 1492. My father was a lover of History and Geography. He had many friends among the Moors of Spain, and many books, writings and even a few maps were lent, borrowed and discussed among them in our home. I had acquired a love of maps and a fair understanding of cartography and easily followed the talk of my father and his guests.
Fernan De Alcazar, always on edge and spoiling for an argument, had scoffed at the notion that Columbus had reached China in such a short distance and time…
“We know there is a great sea to the west of Gibraltar and past the Azores; we also know there is a great sea to the East of Japango. We know the circumference of the Earth is around 25,000 miles. Aryabhata of India taught that seven centuries ago, Eratosthenes, 200 years before Jesus Christ walked the earth. Therefore this ocean”, he continued, “must be at least 12,000 miles across. This Genoan buffoon runs into a few Islands merely 3000 miles to the west and claims to have made it to Cathay? And they are giving him more ships? God saves those who would travel with him.”
Portugal was within 60 miles of our home, and many of their ships traded in the Bay of Cadiz just a few miles down-river. The Portuguese were confident of a land far to the southeast of the Canary Islands. They spoke of coming in contact with large trading canoes that had left the coast of Africa heading west, those traders describing a beautiful, green, inhabited land.
“I am not sure which version is more preposterous. That he made it to the East or that he has ‘discovered’ a new land,” finished De Alcazar.
“I have met Señor Colón”, my father replied,“ and I found he was neither Saint nor Satan, and certainly no fool. He was very near and somewhat secretive with information of his voyage, and was excessively and irksomely over-impressed with himself and his accomplishments. Perhaps for the benefit of The Catholic Monarchs, and certainly for Father Juan Perez, who both he and the Monarchs are quite close to, he even throws in a biblical verse here and there, as if Isaiah had foretold of his bringing Christ to a new land, new islands no less.”
After a full minute my father continued addressing De Alcazar, “No, No, …much like all of us, he is not ‘all’ anything. He has many shining qualities and many shabby ones. He is neither as splendid as he seems to believe he is nor as low as others claim, but somewhere in between.”
Now months later, my father’s voice brought my focus back to him. “Many ships are being readied and supplied, and Admiral Colón is looking for soldiers and craftsmen to join him.” He went on after a few moments contemplation. “He is promising great rewards.”
My heart sank. My father, having just returned from the wars a few months passed, would be off again on another adventure. He would leave me behind to be further stifled by my mother’s and brothers’ overbearing ‘protection’ and more language and religious training by the dour Jesuits. I was to be forever trapped in this village.
Perhaps all young men are the same. I worshipped my father like a god. The feats of my father in battle were legend in our village. All our land and wealth were rewards for his valor, wisdom and strength, directly given by Ferdinand himself. Although he spoke quietly and infrequently, all would stop to hear him speak. I had never heard anyone interrupt or over-speak him, even de-Alcazar, our haughty Moorish friend hanging on his words.
Although my father was gone much of the time, the armies of Ferdinand were seldom more than a week’s ride away. He was able to return home often and stay for several weeks at a time. The siege or war against Granada had lasted the past ten years, almost as long as I could remember, but was yearly put on hold during the winter months so he was generally with us for November through the beginning of March.
But this would be a voyage of years. The idea of being without my father for that long, trapped in this almost Monastic life, was too much to bear.
“I have secured you a post as scribe for Admiral Colón.” He went on, astonishing me. “We leave for Seville in a fort-night, where you will begin your duties. I have convinced him that your proficiency in languages, as well as your mathematical skills, will be invaluable to him.”
I sat in stunned amazement, my mouth opening and closing like a fish. Never one to speak over much, I was absolutely at a loss for words. I had longed for freedom from this almost monastic life of my sixteen year history, dreamed of the world and the great adventure just waiting for me outside of Jerez.
Now that the prison gate was to be sprung I did not know what I felt. Excitement? Certainly. Gratitude? No doubt. But there was also some other underlying, quite uncomfortable feeling. Was it fear?
My father leaned forward and patted my knee. With a friendly, amused smile he said, “Take your time, allow this to sink in for a few minutes.”
How had Colón even heard of me? Certainly I had proficiency in languages and mathematics, and loved to show up my brothers, spouting out Latin phrases at them and tutoring them in Algebra although they were older than I. I later learned that a large payment by my father directly to the Admiral had helped in the decision making, a small letdown to my ego.
Chapter 3) Preparing for Sevilla
I was large for my age and even at just shy of seventeen, seemed confident and serious enough to pull off a mature air. My very shyness and timidity seemed often to be confused with self-assurance and perhaps even aloofness. But in most ways I was merely an excited child, ready for adventure. Being overprotected, not only by my mother, but also my older siblings, and further isolated from the evils of the world by Padre Ignacio, the local priest preparing me for the church, a more naïve, and unworldly aid for Admiral Colón would be hard to find. Any bawdy talk, any hint of inappropriate behavior was quickly quashed by my protectors.
I had never been out in the world at all, and was thrilled beyond words at the prospect of Seville alone, never mind crossing the Atlantic Ocean to a new land. I had an idea of the excitement, wonder and beauty that awaited me but, for good or ill, I really had no notion of how horrible humans could be. I could not have been more ill-prepared for life among hundreds of crude and tough sailors. I would soon be introduced to some of the most unfair and heinous interactions between peoples imaginable, and was wholly ignorant of the existing brutality that I was soon to witness in my travels.
But for now, it was all excitement and anticipation. Fourteen days passed in a blur. Between tears and hugs and prayers my mother put together a trunk with what she felt would be appropriate clothing. My father would gently remind her of Admiral Colón’s simplicity on seeing some of her more outlandish creations. My mother had secured the help of several seamstresses, and had scoured Jerez for available cloth.
Holding up a pair of gaily colored pantaloons he chuckled. “He should appear both serious and studious, not like a court parakeet,” he gently chided. “But seeing the furious glare that only my mother possessed, and that this labor kept her busy, with less time for tears, he let her have her way.”
My brothers were quite put out on not being chosen for this honor, but a few minutes of challenging their Latin and Greek by my father, as well as putting their mathematical skills to the test brought them to at least grudging acceptance. My oldest brother, Hernan, presented me with what was a prized possession, a Toledo steel dagger with an intricately carved hilt of whale bone from Biscay. My middle brother Antonio presented me with boxed ears and a push into a thorny rose bush, as we were walking in to dinner.
My mother was … confusing. Angry with my father for letting such an innocent out into the big frightening world, disappointed in me for not wanting to continue my studies and enter the priesthood, thrilled for me and the opportunity I was given yet saddened by this definitive end of childhood. With me being the youngest, I suppose it was particularly hard on her.
“You will be seeing people and places unknown to most,” she said, adding after a few moments reflection while she worked, “But people are the same the world over.” At that point I was unsure if this was a warning or if it was said to comfort me.
I loved my mother dearly, and would have done anything for her, though just ‘talking’ with her was always taxing work for some reason. Perhaps I would even have given up this journey had she asked it.
But we spoke a different language. Certainly the words were the same, but I spent so much time deciphering what she was really trying to say that she would usually be onto another subject long before I could formulate an answer.
She was preparing a special meal for me, partridge in an almond and pomegranate sauce, a favorite of mine.
Dismissing the cook for the midday, she called me into our kitchen. Because it had been originally built to service thirty or more the kitchen was quite large. The bulk of the oven was out of doors, with only an opening of twenty by twenty inches facing into the kitchen. This would keep the area relatively cool. There were large walk through windows into the herb garden that was letting in the fresh cool morning air with a whiff of lavender or perhaps rosemary, as well as the pleasant sound of the courtyard fountain.
She had created a cloud of flour dust that hung and glittered in the slanting rays of the sun over her head as she hummed a very familiar Arabic tune that she had learned from her grandmother, something about springtime, desert flowers and love.
My mother was of average height, standing about five feet; with long hair so black it almost had a blue sheen, just recently beginning to show a silver strand here and there. Her almond shaped eyes and olive skin spoke of a strong Arabic heritage. She had a small gap between her front teeth adding an endearing, unique charm to her sweet face… sweet unless she was angered, which seemed surprisingly easy to do. Then you noticed nothing but the Damascus daggers shooting from her eyes.
Using the heavy stone pestle, she had ground several handfuls of almonds in the mortar into almost a flour consistency and was adding her dry spices into this, predominantly cinnamon and dried ginger, with a bit of marjoram and a taste of sage. The white almond flour soon took on a red/ brown hue.
“You have good instincts even though you have been sheltered here in Jerez “my mother correctly intoned. “There will be plenty who would take advantage of a young campesino (country boy) like yourself, so be careful who you associate with.”
She gazed out the window at a sparrow that had alighted on the fig tree, or perhaps gazed at a point a thousand miles or several years beyond that, and was quiet for a while in contemplation.
“Women will assume that, as an aide to Admiral Colón you are wealthy or at the least influential, and will try to take advantage of your heroic heart. You have been hopelessly in love three or four times in the past year alone. You are very susceptible to a woman’s charms you know?” she said with a soft smile, looking closely into my eyes to emphasize her words.
She added the dry mixture to a simmering cauldron of pomegranate, honey and water that had been stewing in a small pot over the coals of the fire, cooking it down to the consistency that she wanted. A portion of this would glaze the partridge while they cooked, with the balance warmed once again for each individual to pour over the broiled bird to their own taste.
“I realize you might feel I have been unfairly pushing you towards the priesthood, but I am hopeful that you can see that the education you have received, that your skill in languages and mathematics, have been worth the sacrifice, and will be useful to you on your new path,” she said as she rubbed the glaze into the birds.
Barely pausing for breath, she added,” When you were ten, eleven, twelve you spoke only of the priesthood. I should have seen when things changed but it took your father to open my eyes to it. Please God that you are not leaving with resentment in your heart,” she said looking at me, as a hope and a question.
I turned my mother towards me and hugged her near. Without thought, she embraced me with her arms and elbows while instinctively kept her sticky hands away. Some sort of inborn ability to keep things clean I suppose. My words were all caught up in my throat and my mother buried her face in my chest and let out long, heartbreaking sobs. I patted her head, as I would have comforted a child. We stood like this for what seemed a long time although I suppose it was but a minute. Once her weeping had subsided, I lifted her face to me and kissed her forehead then both cheeks, brushed a smudge of cinnamon that had somehow got on the end of her nose, and murmured my thanks and my love to her.
My mother had a very strong personality, and rarely showed emotion. I believe this was the only time I saw her weep.
Chapter 4) Sevilla
It had been a warm summer afternoon and the breeze off the Atlantic had pushed us quickly up the Guadalquivir River, sailing large with a billowing lateen sail. All three of us had been aware that this was the end of our childhood together and so were a bit nicer to each other. There was more comradery, less rivalry as we reminisced about our youth in Jerez.
Antonio imparted brotherly advice on women, and what to do with the ladies of Seville I would meet, Hernan with what to watch out for among the cutthroats and thieves I was sure to encounter.
My oldest brother left me with a bear like embrace and a kiss on each cheek, Antonio giving me the usual fist to my shoulder, but with a smile on his face, a glisten in his eye… none of the muscle numbing pounding I was used to.
All too soon I was on my own in the current capital residence of the Monarchs, Seville. In the seemingly endless Administration building, I was awestruck by the grandness of everything and the noise and hustle and bustle around me, and found myself nervously waiting with dozens of others to be presented to Colón.
After I had waited several hours, one of Colón’s men finally came out to grab me. He berated me for not making myself known, for not being more aggressive, not demanding enough and half led, half pushed me before the great man. I was nonplussed by this angry aggressive, rat of a clerk, and tried to compose myself as I sat before Colón.
Without looking up from a letter he was reading the great explorer spoke quietly with barely contained vexation, “To be of any use to me you cannot wait on others, you must be able to push yourself forward, get my request and your task accomplished, and get back to me without wasting a moment.”
After a few moments of silence… that seemed a lifetime I answered,” Yes Admiral Colón, and what would you have me do now?”
Staring hard at me for several moments he nodded his head as he seemed to come to a decision. “Take this letter down to the Triana in the harbor, directly against the Mariagallante, give it to the captain and tell him that I requested you wait for a reply… in writing”, he added forcefully! “Then come directly back here.” He finished, handing out the letter but no longer looking at me.
I quickly grabbed the letter and was out of the door and on my way like a musket shot, not having a clue what a Triana was or where to go. But calming, it became obvious to me that the harbor would mean boats or ships, and once there I would just ask directions. “Splendid! A year long voyage as aide to an angry jack-ass!” I thought to myself, my first impression of the great man.
I was completely at a loss to begin with, trying to determine what my place was, what was expected of me. After the rocky start however, Colón was quite patient and began by having me take notes on the various meetings and appointments. He would send me on various tasks at the dock sides and soon I had an idea on how to best serve the Admiral.
I had been present for many of the planning and investor meetings and had a chance to see some of the maps and charts I had heard so much about, as well as witness Colón’s force of character.
Just as in my father’s salon, there had been much argument and debate among scholars and cartographers back in Castile regarding the circumference of the earth and whether the Admiral had really travelled to the Far East or had instead, come across some unknown islands less than halfway there. To the earliest sailors, of course, the spherical shape of the earth was obvious, only the size of it in question. It has been said that earlier generations thought the earth flat, and that ships would fall off the edge if they travelled too far. Any child, on seeing a ship disappear over the horizon only to return later in the day, would know that to be preposterous. I had a hard time believing anyone ever had been that naïve. The world on the back of a tortoise, or Atlas for sooth!
My father spoke with me of diplomacy and the importance of advising, while not correcting my superiors. Colón may have strong motives for continuing to stand by his estimations of Earth’s size and distances, and my father made it very clear I was never to contradict or correct him in front of others. I soon noticed Colón’s own diplomacy at work.
For prospects that were convinced of the smaller sphere, he would speak of the riches of the Orient, the spices and silks that had enriched Venice and Genoa, now easily obtainable. For those sure of a larger globe, he would quickly steer away from the controversy and extol the riches of Hispaniola itself and all that would be gained by its settlement and exploitation.
The Admiral had lived in Portugal, and worked as a Cartographer for King John II there, and had even copied and (it was generally believed) kept some of those maps and charts for himself. He seemed quite convinced, or at least claimed to be convinced, that these islands he had travelled to were somewhere between Cipango (Japan) and Cathay (China), and that Cathay would be reached within a few days sailing to the southeast. Somehow he never allowed the distance question to become a point of contention however.
Colón was an astonishing and energetic leader with his hand in every aspect of the voyage. From choosing, or at least approving the captains for the 17 ships, provisioning them for a year long trip, and coordinating it all, he seemed ever present.
But his genius was in promoting the whole venture. Although Ferdinand and Isabella had given their approval and backing, they had only put up a fraction of the funds necessary for this grand voyage. They could exert a lot of pressure on the Nobility and merchants to invest, but much of it had to be raised through Colón’s own efforts and ability to convince and entice these men of wealth.
This was pure Mercantilism. Although Colón had shown that he could make the journey, his return to the investors on the first voyage had not been overwhelming. Yet all were aware, or made aware of the huge potential if Colón could crack the growing Portuguese monopoly of the spice trade.
It was, however, his remarkable ability to recreate in their minds the Island of Hispaniola, not merely in dry statistics, but as a verdant land, teaming with abundance and opportunity, which drew his audience in. Every valley was perfect for growing wheat or oats, with a river running through it to augment the frequent nurturing rains. The rivers were awash in gold from unknown and untapped deposits. All found in the setting of a perfect paradise.
Thousands of happy friendly Orientals, who were just looking for occupation, and thirsting for Christianity, were waiting there. In comparison to the dry rocky soil of much of Spain, and the frequent droughts and resulting crop failures, this was a beautiful picture.
His investors were imbued with a sense of both participating in a grand adventure, with an equally strong sense of certainty of a handsome return on their funds.
He seemed to sense just when to pull back, when to let the Noble or merchant’s own fear of loss of opportunity urge them on to insist that Colón allow them to invest.
As for me…
I started with excitement and enthusiasm for our mission. The Admiral’s vision of bringing Christianity to thousands seemed so much grander than anything I might accomplish as a parish priest. Claiming new lands for Castile and Aragon, for our Catholic Majesties Ferdinand and Isabella, not by war and conquest, but by being welcomed by its people, how grand it was to imagine. Replenishing the coffers of The Monarchs after its costly wars to remove the Moors from the peninsula; what an incredible thing to be a part of. There was even talk of a new Crusade, to once and for all push the invading Muslim from Jerusalem, to free the Holy Land!
While the Spain of Isabella and Ferdinand was euphoric on the removal of the last Moorish Caliphate from Granada, it had only been a dozen years since the Ottoman Saracen had invaded Otranto, one of Ferdinand’s holdings in Southern Italy, beheading 800, and enslaving or killing 12,000 Christian inhabitants. The Muslim threat was a driving consideration in all of Christianity in 1493.
Chapter 5) Slavery
That glowing excitement was sullied and tarnished by talk of the slave trade however. Many of the investors in this adventure seemed to be under the impression that they would be getting part of their return by trafficking in humans. Queen Isabella had been adamant that Castile and Aragon would not follow Portugal in this unholy practice, even insisting Colón return the few natives that had survived the trip to Castile and her court, back to their own homes and people on Hispaniola.
Colón had brought several dozen ‘Orientals’, people of the East, back with him from his first voyage. Although disease had broken out on the return, killing many of the ‘In Dios’ (Children of God Colón had named them) as well as killing or affecting a surprising number of his crew, there were a dozen or so left at the court of Queen Isabella. The youngest son as well as a niece of the Indio’s great leader, Guacanagari, were at court and were among her favorites.
Portugal has been providing African slaves to the Moors of Granada as house servants as well as galley slaves in the coastal areas, and some of the Hispanic wealthy had taken up this detestable practice. The Admiral had been less than clear when ‘selling’ his trade and settlement scheme to some of these investors, when I felt he should have been straightforward. But as a mere scribe, and a boy at that, and recalling my father’s admonishments, it was not my place to say anything.
I reflected on my own thoughts on this trade. There had been much discussion of slavery back home in my father’s salon. At one afternoon gathering, Fernan, the Moor, had pointed out how acceptable slavery was in both the Koran and our Christian Bible. The Jews had at one time owned many slaves and had, themselves, been enslaved in turn. It was the way of the world.
I recall him taking our young serving girl, Ariana and placing her on his lap, asking, “How is even this child different from a slave? You treat her and her mother well, they never go hungry or without, but what option do they have but to keep working for you, their descendants doing the same for your descendants?”
“My own people,” Fernan went on, “while trading in the African interior, noticed the men of the defeated tribes were being rounded up and ritualistically slaughtered by the victor. A very wise Moor trader saved their lives by offering trade goods for these defeated warriors, taking them to the grain fields of Somalia and Persia to be used as workers. Were not these captives better off, were they not pleased to become enslaved rather than killed?”
I could not help but think that neither being enslaved nor killed would have pleased them. Ours was a cruel, vicious, mostly uncivilized world however, and even at sixteen years I understood that it was not a real world possibility at that time, that they be simply freed. Fernan’s arguments held some value, or at the least were worthy of consideration.
But even as I thought this, I contemplated how this “merciful” act of the Moorish trader, had started a whole new and horrible industry. No longer were the various tribes of Africa fighting for hunting areas, honor and prestige, but now hunted each other as human trade goods.
The Admiral assured others that the gold found easily in the rivers of these lands, as well as the trade for spices and cloth in Cathay and Saipan would make all wealthy. “I have left Navidad in the Capable hands of Captain Jesus Maria Martinez and Lieutenant Lliago des Champs”, flatly stated Colón. “Doubtless they have discovered the source of the gold and copper that adorns almost every Indio. They will have employed the willing natives to help with the mining, scouted out the best location for a larger settlement as well as pasture for the livestock we will be bringing.”
“The men are incredibly stout and well made, and look fierce when you meet them. As soon as they witness the superiority of the Catholic Monarchs and Hispania and learn of our desire to bring them under their protection however, they are all smiles and as pliable as children.” boasted the Admiral.
“Lieutenant Lliago des Champs, that most capable aide to Captain Martinez who governs our colony there, has already learned their language and will easily communicate our wishes to them. Because of the bounty of the land and lack of struggle for food, they are eager for any employment or diversion we might bring them.”
“They helped with the construction of our first shelter and could work tirelessly all day without complaint. They spared no effort to please us. Gifts of fish, vegetables, fruits and trinkets of gold and copper as I have shown you, were showered on us daily.” he added.
“In the midst of tens of thousands of their men, with as many women, and countless children, we were never in fear” he would continue.” Their religious leader, and even their King treated us with incredible deference and the people simply followed this example,” he claimed. “Further, their thirst for knowledge of The Kingdom of God is touching and awe inspiring. I would not be surprised to find that Father Alonzo has converted them all by our return, In Dios indeed!
Although Colón would never directly hint at slavery, he could not have chosen better words to describe the Indio’s suitability for that employment. If these investors believed that slavery was a backup plan, when obviously the Queen prohibited it, Colón seemed dis-inclined to correct them. I sensed the Admiral was being too sly by half!
But I reminded myself that Colón had the backing of Father Juan Perez, confessor to Queen Isabella, who was largely responsible for her support of the first and second voyages. Colón himself was a Franciscan Brother of the Third Order, which he would announce countless times to anyone who would listen. I was certain such a pious individual would not participate in anything as immoral as the slave trade.
A Third Order Friar was mostly an honorary lay position, but Colón took it quite seriously. He always wore brown, plain clothes which, although nicely made and of quality material, as well as always clean and orderly, was nothing like the foppish, colorful outfits, high heeled boots and finery of his contemporaries -I once again mentally thank my father for insisting on the more dignified apparel I now wore.
He spent much time in prayer and contemplation. He did not speak of it much, but he seemed to have a spiritual belief in his own destiny and place in the world. There were several obscure scriptures, from both Isaiah and John’s Revelations that he seemed focused on, and that bolstered his self-image as an instrument of God’s will.
John 10:16- “And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd. ”
Isaiah 60:9- “For, the islands wait for me, and the ships of the sea in the beginning: that I may bring thy sons from afar, their silver and their gold with them, to the name of the Lord thy God.”
This piety, along with the help of Father Perez, had secured the support of the Monarchs, as well as the ships of the Pinzon brothers for his first voyage. Colón and my father, in fact, had met on the plains of Granada, where the Monarchs awaited the capitulation of the Last Moorish Leader in ‘The White Tent’ City’. It was here that my father had introduced the idea of his, that the brilliant son of Hernan De La Casa should accompany Colón on his second voyage.
There would always remain this love hate relationship between us. On a personal basis Colón and I had a very comfortable, even friendly relationship. We both of a retiring or shy disposition could discuss business and personal matters, even jest with the other without crossing that master/ subordinate line. He was painfully awkward with his social dealings with the nobility or merchants, but could then wax forcefully and convincingly on a subject he was truly interested in. After our first encounter, there was never that awkwardness.
As my father had observed months earlier, he was neither, “…saint nor Satan.”
Chapter 6 Colón
Colón stared out the window of his apartments by the Basilica, listening to the bells that called the monks to Compline, the final prayers of the day, around the twelfth hour (8 or 9pm). He had ushered the last of his guests, a minor nobleman and his wife from his salon. They had been imploring him to take their son, a sullen pock-faced youth of seventeen years, in any position that might be available. Colón wanted to suggest he be used as an anchor, but thought that might not be taken well. He had learned years ago, especially in his quest for funds on his first voyage that every nobleman was related to or at least was known to every other nobleman, that few appreciated levity, and none being told “no”.
He promised to, “…see what place might be found”, drank their health and sent them on their way.
He thought he might pray at Nocturnes, around midnight, after a small meal and rest. Although dreadfully tired, he knew that once again sleep would elude him this night. Praying in the Basilica was very calming and soothing to his troubled mind and soul. The repetition of well-known and loved psalms in Latin, the same he would have heard in Genoa, Lisbon or even Ireland, the drone of many voices in the cavernous space with the smell of incense as a few candles flickered and ineffectually probed the darkness…all familiar, all comforting. In his running conversation with God, it was here that he would attempt to justify his words and actions and ask forgiveness for the sins committed this day.
He gazed at his ships at anchor, the few lights from the far shore silhouetting them clearly. He could hear their creaking timbers, perhaps it was the dock, smell the wet surrounding the harbor, see the men late at work loading both his ships, and unloading produce from upriver.
He longed to be back on the open sea, truly he would rather go back to his beginning as cabin boy on his first trip to Iceland, than continue to have to beg, cajole, flatter, stretch the truth, or flat out lie to get these merchants and nobles to pry open the purse strings and support this voyage. He had great plans for Hispaniola, but could do nothing if he could not adequately fund the voyage.
He turned his mind to thoughts of Beatriz and his sons back in Cordoba as he poured himself a glass of Sherry. His mind forgot the unending months, years of frustration while awaiting the Monarchs pleasure. He set aside his current woes as his mind drifted to the pleasure of his family, friends and life there. He recalled vividly when he met Beatriz…
“Wait for me” Colón shouted at his young son. Diego laughed and ran on.
He had stopped by the apothecary in Cordoba, about a mile from his apartments near the Monarch’s residence of Alcazar. Occasionally he would experience bouts of terrible swelling and pain in his knees, along with fever and chills, and felt an episode coming on.
“Rub the poultice deep into the flesh of your knees”, the herbalist, wife of the apothecary and midwife said as she messaged it in. “Then wrap more in a cloth bound around them when you get home and the heat will ease the pain and swelling.”
Next door to the apothecary was a wine shop owned by Diego de Arana who he had befriended. The two shops comprised the un-official meeting spot for Italians, especially those of Genoa, and Colón would spend hours visiting and gathering news, as well as discussing and purchasing wine. His son Diego usually accompanied him and was a favorite.
Gingerly, so as not to slip on the wet stones and further aggravate his knees, he stepped onto the glistening cobbles under a grey, gently weeping sky and exited the apothecary with his mandragora, radish poultice and willow bark for fever. His son, an energetic and gregarious six year old, broke from his grip and ran to the wine shop. Colón called after him, his pain causing him to be more strident than he had intended. As he stormily entered the wine shop he was shocked to hear Diego state in his unreserved manner to someone he could not see, “You are so beautiful!”
Colón recalled his amazement, embarrassment and loss of any form of propriety as he turned to the young woman who Diego had been addressing with the idea of apologizing. The words stuck in his throat however. He was struck dumb by her beauty himself and could only stutter out a few incoherent words and stare at her with what must have been a huge and stupid grin. She boldly stared back with somewhat annoyed black eyes and blacker hair for a few moments and wrinkled her nose slightly. Then shaking her head in bemusement turned in a pretty flounce, calling cheerily back to her uncle, “There is a mute radish at the door looking for wine. He has a handsome, gallant young gentleman with him.”
Colón’s son ran to Diego Arana and grasping his hand began to talk excitedly about the beautiful girl. “She must be a princess or perhaps an enchantress, like Morgana”, he said
Laughing Senior Arana said, “Why, she is my niece. Her name is Beatriz and surely is the princess of this wine shop.” And then he properly introduced her to both Colón and his son.
He recalled with a faint smile how his face burned with both embarrassment and pleasure at their first meeting. He and his son were, both of them in love…
From these pleasant memories he reluctantly returned to the present - Even with the benefit of hindsight, it was difficult for him to trace his own transformation from the almost carefree, self-assured man of Cordoba, to the current harried, frustrated and insecure Admiral in Seville.
These unending compromises, these ridiculous guarantees he now felt compelled to give weighed on his soul to an unsupportable degree. How had he become so weak, so willing to compromise his ideals?
It had started with the Pinzon brothers when preparing for his first voyage nearly a year ago.
With the million maravedis from Isabella and Ferdinand and their mandate to the “People of Palos De La Frontera” a port on the Atlantic, to provide two Caravels and sufficient crews to Colón, he was sure his dream of a route to the wealth of the East by heading to the West was in his grasp.
Yet he had almost immediately run into difficulties. Having been offered the use of two worm eaten ships and having gathered barely the start of a meager undisciplined crew after months of effort, Colón was near to despair. He felt his long sought for opportunity was slipping through his fingers. He doubted these ships could make the Canary Islands, let alone sail off into the unknown. The difficulties he was running into were perplexing and infinitely frustrating.
Almost suspiciously , the Pinzon family, wealthy traders and shipbuilders in La Fonterra came to the rescue of the endeavor, offering to not only supply the two ships and crews desired, but would add another ½ million maravedis for supplies and outfitting. They would do this all for just a 50 % share of the profits and share in any honors received from the expedition. In his despair Colón readily agreed. “And”, he admitted to himself now,” I am compounding the problem by doing the same thing again”.
The Pinzon brothers had been unmanageable from the start, treating Colón as a junior partner, rather than the leader of the expedition. To counterbalance the situation, Colón used the Crown funds to secure the Santa Maria and its owner and master, Juan de la Cosa as his flagship with the Pinzon’s Niña and Pinta as consorts.
Colón understood trade thoroughly, had been involved in maritime trade in one form or another for his whole life with moderate success. Ten years older, Martin Pinzon was on another level, a very ruthless, grasping level. Once he and Colón struck the agreement, Pinzon began to promote this voyage as his own venture, ostensibly to garner support from local seamen and merchants that knew of him and his success. The fierce character of the Santa Maria’s Captain and crew, mostly Basque and ready to fight at the least offence, kept the Pinzons somewhat in check.
The first confrontation was etched in Colón’s memory. In the cramped cabin of the Santa MAria, in the Harbor of Los Palos, he and his captains were going over final preparations. The sunlight streaming through the stern windows highlighted their faces that were growing red and pinched as an argument was coming to a head.
Colón was insisting they get underway with Aug 1st, 1492 as the departure date. The Pinzons were arguing for a date closer to the 15th, giving weak excuses and deflections, obviously trying to complete some scheme of their own before departure.
Martin stood to his feet, and with an air of finality and condescension stated, “Colón, we will leave on the 15th and that is that!” Juan La Casa, captain of the Santa Maria, and Colón’s champion, slowly rose, grabbed the elder Pinzon by the lapels, backed him up and slammed him to the cabin wall. He said quietly, with a fierce gleam in his eye, “You will address him as “Admiral” Colón, and you will be ready to sail on the first or I will sink you and your boats right here in the harbor with you and your brother on them!” La Casa’s bosom, Lliago Des Champs was behind the younger Pinzon, holding him by a strong hand on his shoulder alone. When he had entered the cabin no one could say.
Although the Pinzons and their crew were not soft, the brutality and fierceness of the Santa MAria’s Basques had been demonstrated in port to a degree where the Pinzons would not force a confrontation.
Colón, caught between the conniving brothers and the possibly piratical Basques knew he had a lion by the tail, but felt he must carry on and sort out the details later if he were to sail before the winter storms.
Still in a sort of reverie in the past, he carried half of a cold chicken, along with some bread and cheese to a chair and table by the big window looking over the water, extinguishing all the candles and lamps along the way.
He angrily recalled how, once at sea, once the Canary Islands had sunk below the horizon, Pinzon would constantly race ahead in the much faster “Pinta”, and he would be compelled to follow. For the most part the currents and wind guided their direction, but a subtle change in the sail would alter their landing by several hundred miles. Pinzon had hinted at secret charts and a voyage of his own a few years earlier with the Frenchman Jean Cousin. He implied that they had come across a land across from the coast of Africa and Colón fully expected him to break away to the southwest somewhere along the journey.
In the end, it was only by the merest chance that Colón had received the credit he had for the voyage. With Colón’s ship held up in Azores after a terrible storm on the return trip, Pinzon raced ahead in the Pinta to Portugal to announce to all his marvelous discoveries, taking all credit for himself.
Martin Pinzon was intending on continuing to the Court of Isabella and Ferdinand with the news. Struck down ill however, he was delayed and unable to beat Colón to the Catholic Monarchs, who received the Admiral in honor. Martin Pinzon soon died from this ailment. Colón assumed it was the same disease that had been so devastating for the Indios as well as his own crew, but felt God himself might have been involved.
Sitting now, the moonlight streaming through his window, enjoying the warm summer’s night air and the complaining sounds of the ships in harbor, he contemplated his wine. He admitted to himself that, although he had not actually thanked God for Pinzon’s untimely death, deep down inside he was pleased with this outcome, yet shamed and confused for this very happiness. It felt quite wrong for a follower of Saint Francis.
Rather than one Pinzon however, he thought to himself, he was now beholding to numerous “Pinzons”, with no real hope of fulfilling all the promises he had made in the heat of the moment. None were as devious as Martin Pinzon he felt, but many had great influence with the Monarchs. His heart sank, and he could easily give in to despair. He knew however things always looked better in the morning, after a nights rest and prayer.
He thought back over all that had brought him to this point, as always, thinking of all he should have done differently, while thanking God for all his past and continued blessings, regardless of his current challenges. He was acutely aware that, especially when exhausted, he let himself be awed by these nobles and let himself be cowed into agreements with them that were not to his or the endeavor’s best interest. He asked in a silent prayer to God,” Give me the strength to be straightforward with these men! Help me to let the voyage succeed on its own merits.”
As he chewed on some chicken, along with a bit of hard cheese, a few olives and a bit of crusty bread he sipped some more wine and thought back to his father and Genoa where his story really began…
Chapter 7) Colón’s Past
He had learned trade and business at an early age in his father’s wool cloth factory in Genoa. He became adept at finding the best source for purchasing quality wool as well as locating the best markets for the family’s finished woolen products. With the Republic of Genoa being a major trading hub at that time, he soon became the trading agent for several wealthy Genovese families, eventually traveling by ship to many parts of the European trading world.
He recalled vividly as a small child, holding his father’s hand walking along the wharfs of home, the smell of fresh fish, just caught that morning, the salt air, infinitely refreshing, and his father’s pride as he pointed out the ship that would take their woolen goods to foreign, exotic lands. “One day you will be Captain of one of these ships, and sell our cloth throughout the world,” he had told young Colón.
It was an ideal life growing up. Surrounded by a loving father and doting mother, he had helped the family business thrive. While not exactly wealthy, they had gained affluence, security and respectability. He often reflected on that part of his life with longing.
Early in his career, he would often make the voyage from Genoa to Chios, a Genovese held island off the coast of Turkey. For generations the family and city’s wealth had come from trading their textiles for the spices that had come overland from the Orient. This trade had begun to dry up however due to interference from the Ottoman Empire and the resulting cost and danger involved in overland trade. The Venetians still had some viable trade in the north from the Silk Road of Marco Polo. To compete, both Genoa and Naples were trying to strengthen ties with Egypt and the Red Sea trading route, but they had left themselves in a tough position. All were aware that the Portuguese were just a few years from cornering that market with their sea route around Africa.
With these spices from the Orient to trade with, Colón had also travelled throughout the Mediterranean, the northeast Atlantic including England, Ireland and even Iceland once. In the North Sea he had traded as far as Flanders, as well as down the African coast to the Portuguese and Spanish held ports along the way. One year the Basque might have the best wool, and too much of it and he would buy from them. Perhaps Flanders would have a rough, cold season and he could command the best deal for his trade goods there. He had built a network of information by befriending port captains and traders along the sea routes. A bottle of wine here, a beautiful woven shawl for the wife of a merchant there, and he knew what was being traded in ports 1,000 miles away. It was rare, but he would trade for gold or silver whenever possible, but most of the family wealth consisted of trade goods.
He recalled sitting in Chios in the year 1479, in sweltering heat, the fetid sea in port seeming about to boil, as were his fellow traders. With holds full of textiles and no spices to be had at any price, Colón was at a loss. He had received word that morning that the caravan that had been traveling through Turkey with the goods he would trade for had been waylaid by the Ottomans and even now on its way to Constantinople. Watching the twelve vessels he was ultimately responsible for bob in the greasy grey water, floating in the filth and waste of the ships and the town, he knew that one season without trade would ruin his father as well as many of the other families involved in producing textiles.
“It will also be my own ruin”, he said to his ship’s Captain and friend, Pasqual Finestere, over a dinner of roasted goat, with dates, pomegranate and almonds. “If I don’t come up with a plan soon no merchant will trust my judgement or acumen again”.
With the profits from this voyage he would have been in a position to purchase a small, fast caravel of his own, never again to be subject to the whim of the other merchants. “I have already committed to the purchase of that caravel”, he added. “We will have to come up with something quickly; De Padua would just as soon we were finished.”
He thought back with pride how he went about convincing the ship owner/ merchants to sail to on to Portugal. “I have contacts there (his younger brother, Bartholomew) that can help arrange to trade our products for the spices, sugar and gold of Africa”, he told the sweating, frustrated traders in a hot, dusty coffee house one afternoon after weeks of inactivity.” The Turkish coffee was as thick as mud and brutally strong… just the way he liked it. The fragrance permeated everything, even blocking out the stench of the tepid, motionless harbor just outside the door. “It will not be nearly so profitable as the trade had been in the past with the Arabs but it is the best option, certainly far better than returning to Genoa with our own cargo!” he said forcefully.
De Padua, a competitor of his fathers who often travelled with own ships along with Colón for mutual protection was furious. “Your luck is gone Cristobal, your information unreliable! We will no longer follow you blindly!” he said with exaggerated feeling.
Not wanting De Padua to drive a wedge between him and the other merchants, he said with all the assumed courtesy he could muster, “you will be missed”. In the end, seven other ships followed him to Portugal; the remaining five sailed south to Egypt in the hope of trade there.
After a successful, but not terribly profitable trade at Setubal, Portugal, just south of Lisbon, Colón was able to visit with his brother in Lisbon.” You should come back here after returning to Genoa,” Bartholomew urged him. “This is where your skills as a sailor will be honored and put to use. We will round Africa soon and meet with traders from the Orient. In just a few years we will be trading directly and quickly with the Far East and can completely eliminate Venice and Naples as trading competition. All that wealth will flow into Lisbon and we will be at the center! Imagine, in just a two year voyage we can trade directly with Cipango and return! In one trip with Father’s goods he can realize five times what he does now!”
They were sitting on Bartholomew’s veranda overlooking the Mar de Palha, the bay where Lisbon lay, drinking a thick fortified red wine from the north of Portugal. “Get us a bit o that cheese from Parma and some of that bread Maria!” he ordered his feisty Portuguese bride in the coarse dialect of that country. “You finished the Parma off days ago!” she loudly, almost angrily bawled back over their laughing, wrestling young sons. We have a bit of that Sao Jorge what you brung from the islands and some of them sausages if you like?” Bartholomew rose, separated his sons and with a swat to their rears sent them giggling from the room. “Yes my love, at will be perfect!”
Seating himself again his brother continued, “There is a spot for you in the Kings Service brother. Your knowledge of the African coast, and your ability to Captain a ship can be employed immediately.” Bartholomew had been trying to tempt Colón into staying. “You are twice the Cartographer I am, and they believe me a genius!”
“I’ll be back in perhaps a month and I’ll visit with you then.” Barto had told him of the substantial profit to be made with the short run up to London and perhaps Flanders, only a month or five weeks added, with the spices they had just traded for selling for two and even three fold what they would garner in Genoa. From fighting for the few scraps of spices and silks that made it through to the eastern Mediterranean to now being at the hub of all future trade and exploration, Colón was more than tempted to join Bartholomew.
Most of the owners, quite unhappy with the meager profits they would be returning home with, decided to stay with Colón, at least as far as England, just a few weeks travel. True to Colón’s ‘source’, they were able to sell their cargoes at an astonishing profit; in fact they were far ahead of where they would have been had they been able to trade in Chios, though it was taking considerably longer.
Colón further was able to purchase a large quantity of a much higher quality of wool than he had ever come across. This he did on the black market as large guilds controlled the wool in England, strictly controlling the price. The premium Colón paid was a bargain for him and a much better deal for the farmers that were being shortchanged by the guild’s price controls. They quietly headed down the Thames and back out to sea with full holds and grateful hearts.
It was off the Coast of Portugal as they headed towards Lisbon that things went terribly wrong.
Their heavily laden ship continued to shoulder its way through the rough, grey seas, the bow heaving around at the last moment, cleaving through the frothed white tipped roller at ninety degrees to keep from capsizing, then slanting down into the trough at 45 degrees to make the most of the wind. Colón laughed aloud as the thick spray soaked him in a moment of in-attention. They were traveling as close to due west as possible from their sighting of the Northwest point of Galicia (now Spain). They needed close to one hundred miles of westing to catch the current that would carry them safely to Lisbon. This was the slowest part of the journey and quartering into the wind, it would be three days of breaking through rollers and continual trimming of the sails. It was tiresome, wet and dangerous sailing, and from the flashing smiles and occasional laugh while crashing through a massive wave by his Captain, Pasqual Finestere, Colón knew he loved it as much as he. It is how he would always remember his close friend.
As the seas calmed on the morning of the third day however, the dawn showed 15 French privateers beAring down on them from the west. Though each of his ships quickly turned about on their heels and ran before the wind with every sail aloft, they could not possibly compete with the speed of the unburdened pirates. The French had some small arms but mostly depended on superior numbers with enough men to handle their ship and more than enough to overrun the sparse crews of the merchant ships.
Colón’s ship, having been the lead, was now the first ship overtaken by the pirates, and Colón led the crew to meet the attack. In the first of the pirate vessels to reach them was a huge man who pointed a blunderbuss, a large-mouthed firearm that would blast out whatever fragments of metal, rock or glass available, at Colón’s group. He fell over backwards trying to avoid the blast as the gun was discharged in his direction. The gunpowder in the pan fizzled from the damp, and the gun discharged only after several seconds, the projectiles winging through his boat’s sail with only a few shards nicking Colón. For defense the merchant ships had fire bombs, jars of oil and pitch with a wick or fuse that would be thrown onto the deck of the attacking ship as it approached to board. At the last moment, several of the crew pitched these flaming jars at the pirate ship. Although they proved effective, the vessel, with sails ablaze, continued on course, their rigging becoming fouled with that of several of the merchant ships.
Four pirate vessels ended up burning, along with three merchant ships including the Bechalla, which carried a great part of Colón’s family’s wealth. As the fire and the fighting travelled from the French ship to the Bechalla, Captain Finestere was bore down by three attackers and mortally wounded. As Colón raced to his aid a shift in the wind created a blast of flame that forced him, his clothes in flames, overboard.
Although most of the crew were drowned Colón, a powerful swimmer, was able to make it to shore, clinging onto some flotsam from the ruined ships.
As Colón poured himself the last of the bottle he silently raised his glass to his lost friend Finestere, and thought back on how that swim ashore marked the end of one life and the beginning of another. It seemed a good evening for reflection and introspection. Rather than the walk to the Cathedral he chose to open another bottle, this one of a dry Sac from just down river.
Once he had made it back to Lisbon, quite an adventure in its own right, Colón had no reason to return to Genoa. He sent word to his father that the cargo and ship was lost and that he would be working in Lisbon for a few years and attempt to open other trading opportunities for the family.
Within a few years’ time, Colón was working with maps and charts with his brother, in the School founded by Henry the Navigator, had met and married a minor Portuguese noblewoman, fathered a son, and had presented his idea to King Alfonzo and his successor Prince John of Portugal, of traveling West across the Atlantic to get to the East.
His wife, Felipa Perestrelle e Moniz, was the daughter of a navigator, explorer and former governor of the Madeira Islands off the coast of Portugal in the Atlantic. Although her family had relatives at court, her father’s death had left Felipa and her mother with just enough to run the household on Madeira and pay for Felipa’s board at The Monastery of All Saints in Lisbon.
Although Felipa had intended on “taking the veil” and was in fact a novice or postulant for life as a Cloistered Nun, the couple was drawn together by their matching religious fervor. Even in her seemingly perpetual melancholia, she was quite pretty, and her relations in the Portuguese Court made her yet more attractive. The attentions of Colón were both surprising and flattering.
As her mother could no longer afford the ‘donation’ necessary to have Felipa stay with the Order of Santiago, the family quickly approved the match, especially as Colón required no dowry. Felipa at twenty five, with a serious, pious and melancholy countenance, was well passed marriageable prime and almost any match was welcomed. The couple moved to the family home in Porto Santo, Madeira Islands.
In his father in law’s study in their island home, Colón found many maps and charts, as well as a manuscript by Paolo Toscanelli dal Pozzo, an Italian geographer and teacher of math and science. He had suggested a western voyage to the Orient to King Afonzo of Portugal back in 1474, almost ten years earlier. Since all were aware of the spherical shape of the globe, the Orient obviously could not help but be reached heading west. The issue was coming up with a workable plan and the funds to do it. The astonishing amount of food and water to be carried for such a voyage was proven technologically impossible at that time. Colón was not alone in his vision, certainly not the first to contemplate it, but he was on fire to be the first to accomplish this feat. It was on Madeira that his plan of his own western voyage took final shape and the conviction of his call from God to bring Christ to the islands of the east took root and flourished.
The couple spent seven mostly contented years there on Madeira, and produced a son, Diego, the treasure of Colón’s world at that time. He and Felipa were good friends and were very supportive of each other’s religiosity, although there was no real passion. As an explorer’s daughter, Felipa understood Colón’s desire for exploration and religious conquest. She did not mind in the least his extended absences to the Portuguese Court as it left her in peace for prayer and fasting.
With no formal schooling, Colón had mastered Latin, Portuguese and Castilian Spanish and, with the help of his brother, was employed by the Portuguese to translate and compile maps, charts and writings collected from all over the known world. He had the ear of Prince John, heir to the Portuguese throne, but could never quite get him behind his westward scheme. John was concentrating on completing and expanding his African Trade Route, which, through gold and the slave trade, was bringing incredible wealth into the country. John was also fighting off intrigues against his rule in Portugal.
The idea of funding an expedition for a ten or twelve thousand mile journey into the unknown, while tempting could not compete with the realities of Africa. Further, the first part of the journey must go through area given to Spain by treaty and Papal Bull.
It was clear to Colón that he needed to present his idea to another power, perhaps the Genoese, or the French? Or perhaps the newly united Crowns of Isabella and Ferdinand, who had been sparring with Portugal off and on for three decades? Isabella had enough ancestral claim to the crown of Portugal to be a threat to John, who was merely regent. His father the King, tired of the unending intrigue of his Nobles, had suddenly retired to a monastery, leaving a power vacuum.
The home was airy and sunny with the sea close at hand. Although they were by no means wealthy, they led a happy comfortable life. He had an idea that he would transform some of the family pasture land to grapes and sugar cane, a way to increase revenues, but could never really get a good start at it. He ended up wasting much more wealth than he produced.
Although Colón and Felipe had a genuine affection for each other, they both realized that his passion for the sea and her religious fervor would always pull them in different directions. As time passed it was clear that returning to the cloistered life of the Monastery, with its emersion in prayer and peace for the balance of her days, was what she wanted more than anything. The amount of time spent in prayer and dedication, as well as her poor health left little time to be a proper mother. Although Colón was also fervent in his beliefs, she far outpaced him in her religious zeal. Her abiding melancholia was a huge burden for all three.
As much as he cared for her, leaving Felipa behind would be like casting loose an anchor for both Colón and his son. Given time, he was sure she would complete her novitiate and become a ‘Sister’ of Christ, freeing them both.
Chapter 7.4) He could still feel the incredible, almost surprising pain of their final parting. As they embraced for the last time the separation became very real, and he suddenly could not let go. A great welling of grief and loss came over him, almost as if she were leaving this life forever rather than entering the cloister. He had a strong premonition that they would not see each other again in this life.
It was 1484 and at thirty three, Colón was on his way to the court of Isabella and Ferdinand. He would travel by sea to La Ra’bida Friary in Huelva, on the southern coast of Castile, a Franciscan monastery about 350 miles away, then up the Guadalquivir River to Sevilla.
Chapter 8) Colón
The writings of Marco Polo, his” Book of Marvels of the World” had a big impact on Colón starting at a very early age. Like his own, one of Polo’s great motivations was his Catholic religion. The Great Khan had asked his father, Nicolo Polo, to return with one hundred missionaries to tell his people of this Christ. It was a dream that the younger Polo was not able to complete. Papal support had died with Clement the IV, and the two missionaries Polo was able to secure on his next journey turned back amidst the turmoil of battle between Mongols and Mameluke Muslims.
Colón had also grown up on stories of the Crusades. The last Holy Land Crusade was less than two centuries earlier. A failed Crusade of sorts, a war where a united force of Christian rulers attempted to stop the Ottoman incursions into Christian Europe had just occurred, with Muslim victories on the Italian Peninsula itself. With his strong Catholic beliefs and the recent successes of the Catholic Monarchs in ousting the Muslims from Iberia, he felt he had a destiny to stop the Muslim expansion and help spread Christianity and fulfill the Polo’s promise to bring Christianity to the East. Like all of us, he was the hero of his own life story. He felt himself an instrument of God.
In Ra’bida he found two strong allies, Father Juan Perez and Friar Antonio De Machena. A Franciscan like himself and the ‘Protector’ or head of the Friary, Perez was also a confidant and confessor to Queen Isabella. Antonio De Marchena was a theologian and scientist and had many wealthy friends and associates. With the help of these two, Colón excited interest in his proposed voyage among men who had the wherewithal to fund such a venture. Without the support of the Queen however; he could get no firm commitments. All strongly felt that Isabella needed to be involved. Jealous of her power and authority she was quick to quell any usurpation.
An interview was finely arranged and Colón travelled to Cordova to await the Monarch’s return there in the spring of 1488. The Catholic Monarchs were intrigued and excited about the prospect of circumventing the Portuguese, but Isabella and Ferdinand were still in the midst of both securing their power base and expelling the Moors from Granada. They put Colón on a chain of sorts by giving him a place at court and a small living allowance, but no real answer.
It was here in late 1487, that he met Beatriz Arana. Colón’s thoughts had now come full circle, back to the beautiful, dark, then nineteen year old Basque who had been orphaned at four and was living with her aunt and uncle in Cordova and working in his wine shop.
Colón had convinced her to tutor his son in language and math. Diego had grown up speaking an odd mixture of Portuguese and the Genoan Dialect, and was picking up Castilian Spanish like a sponge as children tend to do. At seven years old he spoke it much better than his father. They would work until midday, when Beatriz would make the walk home to join her family for dinner, the primary meal of the day, around an hour after midday. Both wanting to prolong her company, Diego successfully urged his father to invite her for the mid-day meal.
“You should join us for dinner rather than having to walk so far back to your uncles for a meal!” Colón urged, “We would both enjoy your companionship. She laughed and shook her head negatively. “Not unless you allow me to cook. I have seen and smelled your meals and am not sure if they are edible,” she answered in her brusque, matter of fact manner. “Who cooks these disasters?” she added.
“Diego and I”, returned Colón a little testily. “We can’t seem to keep a cook,” He added chagrined, but with a slight smile. She started as a teacher, then housekeeper and caretaker for young Diego and in time became mother to Colón’s second son, Ferdinand.
Colón supposed it grew out of their mutual love of Diego. So much more like a loving family should be, and with mutual attraction and esteem. While constantly in such close contact, attraction and mutual interests their love was inevitable.
Beatriz could both read and write, unusual for most women of the time, and had a wonderful and inquisitive mind. She could discuss religion, science and philosophy and was fascinated with Colón’s previous travels and future plans. Diego adored her and was a great student, also learning to read and write under her tutelage.
Colón had sent a letter to Lisbon, to the Monastery where Felipa was cloistered nearly a year before to see how she fared and if an annulment might be possible. This, with proper dispensations, would allow Felipa to join a holy order and Colón to marry Beatriz, providing a legal and loving mother for his son, as well as joy for himself.
Not realizing that Felipa had already passed by then, Colón waited for a response, which to date still not arrived. Life would not wait however and the situation followed its course to the inevitable conclusion. Regardless, neither had any intention of giving up the other, and Beatriz had no problem remaining Colón’s mistress if that’s what was needed for them to be together.
Preparing for bed in his lonely apartments in Sevilla, he pondered again sending for his family for these last few weeks. “By the time the message reaches them, they prepare for and then make the journey; the voyage may well have already begun.” He concluded to himself sadly.
Chapter 10) Preparations Continue
It was a maelstrom of activity in Seville, where lay Colón’s flagship, the Mariagallante. The Monarchs were currently in residence there, along with their court. Especially in the final weeks and days of preparation, it was a carnival atmosphere. Not only sailing crews, farmers and craftsmen that would be participating in the adventure, but food-peddlers, musicians, interested residents, gypsy and many of the peasantry of the surrounding area desiring to witness and vicariously participate in this world changing event made up the throng.
My fingers burned a little as I picked some sizzling, greasy giblets of goat meat from a skewer I had purchased from one of the street vendors. I had been rushing non-stop all day, little more than a messenger boy during these last few days, running orders from Colón to the various captains, herdsmen, and warehouse jefes, in an unending puzzle of getting the supplies delivered and loaded on the correct ships.
Just considering the drink of the sailors was astounding. Whether water, wine or beer, and usually a mixture, each sailor required a gallon a day. That’s six-thousand gallons of liquid on the Mariagallante, or fifty-thousand pounds of liquid, including the water to desalt or de-brine the pickled or salted meats. There would be another twnty-thousand pounds of food stuffs.
The wine would be mixed in a 1 to 4 ratio to water and for a longer voyage was premixed in the casks to keep the water “sweet” or drinkable. The beer had between one and three percent alcohol content and would often be further diluted with water. Being forced to drink just plain water was a sign of hardship and desperate times, and a sure recipe for a mutinous crew.
As I wandered through this forest of casks I wondered how it was possible that it could fit within the holds of these ships. Olives, olive oil, and vinegar were usually stored in earthenware jugs, with all else stored in large, theoretically water proof casks. Large amounts of beans, peas, lentils, chickpeas etc. were provided, along with hard unsalted, unleavened bread of a simple flour and water variety. The sailors would soften this up with their stew or soup. Since all the meats or fish were highly salted, even after soaking and rinsing, this plain bread would also help cut the salinity.
Typically there would also be great wheels of cheeses that would stand up to a long voyage, molasses, honey and some dried fruits such as dates, raisins and currants.
It took me three hours of arguing to convince both the captain and the loading foreman that the grain and fodder must travel along with the proper animals, that transferring food while in transit was not realistic. This is a good example of how my day had gone. Very tedious and frustrating.
I sat in a plaza that opened to the port, wolfing down some of the partially burnt, mostly raw, goat that was not that wholesome to begin with, the overabundance of rosemary not successfully covering the overly aged flavor of the meat.
When I had first arrived, the reek of the city’s open sewers, animal dung and unwashed humans were nearly intolerable. But after several weeks I had grown accustomed to, or at least could ignore this. After a few tidbits from this skewer, I handed it off to a hungry looking street child who gobbled it straight down as a half dozen of his neighbors descended on him hoping for a share. Like a magician, he made the meal disappear before any reached him.
The port was directly before me as I washed my hands and face in one of the hundreds of fountains throughout the city. Started by the Romans and expanded by the Moors, these public water works were the source of water for most of Seville’s residents.
In our small town of Jerez, there was also running water everywhere. Bathing was frequent, and a series of sewer drains took sewage and rainwater away. There were no piles of trash and ruble piled on every corner as I was seeing here.
Recalling the burnt and sour goat meat I thought of what they must be eating at my home in Jerez. Each meal there was lovingly prepared with fresh ingredients from our fields, gardens and flocks or herds. My father, who truly loved good food, would seldom return from travel or fighting without a new recipe or new twist to an old one.
Only 60 miles away from my home, Seville was another world. Here 60,000 humans lived on top of each other like ants. I was initially overwhelmed with all the sounds, sights and smells but somehow I was now accustomed to it. In fact, I could almost say I enjoyed the chaos. After a few losses, I learned to avoid the cutpurses, gypsy and the small gangs of thieves that roamed the less patrolled areas of Seville and knew the safest and cleanest routes from the Government center to shipside.
It was an exciting time to be alive. Isabella and Ferdinand, after a rough start, had energized the people and the economy of their newly united Kingdoms. Roads were safe to travel on due to the local and state police forces they had implemented. The Monarchs had settled their disputes with Portugal and had strengthened their rule. Along with Ferdinand’s kingdoms of Naples and Sicily, they formed powerful trading block in the Mediterranean.
They reconfigured the government, where professionals now were used to run the various departments rather than favored nobles who had used their positions for wholesale theft in the past. They had reorganized the treasury and standardized the monetary system and minting.
With this thriving and safe environment merchants and investors were bringing their business to Hispania, with success breeding more success. Even with their earlier massive payout to Portugal to settle that dispute and the upcoming payment to the Moors in Granada to leave the peninsula, the treasury was quite full.
It was at the final capitulation of Boabdil in Granada, that the Catholic Monarchs gave Colón their final approval. He had been frustrated at the years of delay despite their continued interest and assurances that the time would be soon, and was actually heading to France to the Court of Charles VIII when he was called to the Catholic Monarch’s “City of the White Tents” at the gates of Granada.
And I was part of that grand venture…
From the plaza, I watched smaller craft with shallow drafts that were constantly arriving and departing to or from upriver, their lateen triangular sails adding a pretty touch to the scene. Friendly and sometimes not so friendly banter was passed between these boats as they danced around each other waiting for an open wharf and an opportunity to land their cargo. Most of the shore was lined with warehouses and trading houses while other areas were adorned with fabulous, ornate residences.
For all of its crowding and bustling activity, there were many abandoned buildings and rough areas of town. The population was roughly half what it had been during the Moorish heyday two centuries earlier. Looking at the retained beauty of these ruined buildings, courtyards and gardens, I could easily imagine the grandeur of what had been a Moorish metropolis.
Within my own memory was the last great plague to decimate the city, losing 10% of its population between 1485 and 1490. Although it had barely touched my town of Jerez, I had lost both an uncle and cousin to the disease. Between the exile of the Moors and frequent plague during the last few centuries, Seville was but a shell of its former glory.
Many sections of the city contained whole blocks of abandoned, decrepit, buildings, occupied by an occasional, poor family from the drought ridden countryside along with their animals. There were also quite busy areas inhabited by numerous gypsy families from all over.
Although these garish areas were starting to see a dramatic upswing in disease once again, the soldiers back from the war with Granada, the sailors of Colón’s voyage, as well as others, were drawn to these areas for nightly entertainment, cheap food and drink.
Part Two, Hispaniola Spring 1493
(Returning from his first voyage) He (Colón) left behind 39 crewmen, including a carpenter, a caulker, a physician, a gunner, a tailor and a cooper. He also left water casks and oils jars to collect gold. The men were told to trade with the Indians and collect as much gold as possible and hold it for his return. Columbus then instructed them to build a fort with a moat to impress the Indians and to use in case of danger. The crewmen did not follow these instructions, as the Indians seemed friendly.
Chapter 12) Lliago des Champs
Lieutenant Lliago, one of the first European settlers in America, and one of the crew from Colón’s first voyage, woke early again this morning. He would have several hours to himself to enjoy the quiet, without all the worries, doubts and anger of his situation breaking through the calm of the morning. This truly was a paradise if there was just the time to realize it.
It was an hour until sunrise. Looking north out of the mouth of the bay, there was plenty of light provided by the magenta, reds and pinks of the dawn off to the right, or East. As always, he began his walk in that direction. Cool puffs of breeze ruffled his pants legs, and rippled the water. He walked easily in bared feet up the packed sand, just above the receding tide. Once the blinding rays of the sun breached the surface of the sea he would turn back. The moon would just be setting then. There was a larger creek entering the ocean just outside the bay. It was here that he would go for a swim in the sea with a rinse of freshwater, letting the warm air dry him as he headed back.
The fishermen were already headed out, the clunk of the paddles on the side of the canoes, as well as the soft low voices traveling over the water, were the background for the occasional sizzle of a soft wave. Paradise! Even the infrequent cry of the seabirds acted to accentuate the peace and tranquility.
Lliago soon came to the shallow, but wide mouth of the small river that drained the lush green valley to his right. There were hundreds, perhaps thousands of mounds, with an assortment of vegetables growing on each. The varieties were chosen so that at any time of year, as well as any weather conditions something would be maturing.
With seemingly little effort, a great bounty was produced by the Taino, the native inhabitants of this land. Corn, manioc, many types of tubers and aguacate, augmented by fish, iguana and crocodile meat, the food was far beyond sufficient for a population that must have been close to one hundred thousand souls. “How different from my home back in Bizkaia,” Lliago reflected.
Growing up in a farming community located in the northeast region of the Iberian Peninsula, Lliago was used to poor, rocky soil, inadequate rainfall, and brutally hard work. Striving beside his kindly, hardworking father, the results ranged from poor to worse. Two out of three summers were doomed by drought. If not for his father’s resourcefulness and the ancient olive trees to sustain them, they might have starved. He had no recollection of ever having excess food, although he also never remembered having gone hungry.
Lliago spoke Basque, as well as Catalonian, and enough Castilian to get by. Although his family’s farm was situated in the middle of nowhere, it was where these different cultures overlapped. He had grown up working and trading with all three. Even at six and seven years of age, he would trade and translate for his father, who refused to speak anything but Basque, and even that but seldom. Who can say why some seem to have the gift for language, but Lliago clearly did.
His father, Aika, rarely spoke at all, using mostly one word sentences and a series of meaningful grunts and mostly cheerful facial expressions to communicate. He always had a smile and a contented glint in his eye. Lliago felt comfortable and happy in his quiet presence.
After spending ten hours labor in his patchy, rocky field trying to prize food from stones, with not a spoken word between them all day, his father might turn him around to admire their work, and with a loving arm around his shoulder would simply say, “Ona” or “Good”. This was enough reward for Lliago.
Although he worked as hard as any two men, Aika was a pitiful farmer at the best of times. Fortunately, he was an incredible scrounger. In a year where he might harvest 30 scrawny beets from his own field, he would find many hundreds from the edge of the swamps where several meager creeks met. Wild onions and garlic could not escape his notice. He might trade a day’s labor for several bushels of apples.
Their small herd of goats was started with a few scraggly specimens they had earned from a month’s backbreaking work for a neighbor. Clearing his field of heavy stones then using these to build a small canal to bring water from the creek to his crop had been traded for two pregnant does and an old billy.
Whenever the goat nannies were ready to breed, they would always manage to disappear from their pen, sometimes ending up miles away where a particularly healthy billy might be grazing. “I saw you leading your doe with a rope late last night”, a neighbor shared with a questioning, but friendly glint in his eye. My father would loquaciously say, nodding his head, “escaped”. “But you seemed to be headed in the wrong direction?” the neighbor would add, with a knowing smile. “Lost”, my father might reply, and then stroll away before he would be forced to speak more.
So that there might be one less mouth to feed, Lliago left his home at the age of fifteen, going north to the ‘Great Bay’ to seek his fortune. His sisters and mother, whom he loved dearly, wept as this firstborn son left for parts unknown. His gentle father was nowhere to be seen, apparently unable to bear his departure. With a tear in his eye, Lliago promised to return in the fall, bringing both food and gifts. It would be four years before they would see him again, with many an adventure to speak of.
As he neared the oak forest north of the farm, trudging through the ankle deep dust of the parched and tormented land, his father angled towards him from across the field and was soon at his side. They walked along for several leagues in companionable silence, until they reached the top of the ridge that had been Lliago’s boundary as a child. After enjoying the view and a short rest, his father turned to him with a moist eye and hugged him tightly to his breast. He uttered one heart-wrenching sob and a sigh, then wordlessly released Lliago and headed back towards home.
The next several hours on the trail were a bit of a blur as Lliago reminisced about his home and childhood and love for his family. He dreamed of returning with wealth enough to free his parents from their unending toil.
Chapter 13) Lliago’s Biscay Adventure
Lliago was a tall, strongly knit young man who was obviously capable and used to hard work. With his strangely accented Basque, however, it was difficult to be accepted by the rough fishermen of the Bay of Biscay. A very tight community, the words stranger and enemy were synonymous. He started with odd jobs, the dirtiest that no one liked to do, in exchange for a meal here and there. He was able to show his worth through hard work, and putting his hand to any task for a bit of food. When a crew member was ill, drunk or otherwise unavailable, Lliago was always at hand. By working silently and diligently he soon gained a permanent spot on a fishing crew when one of their number suddenly disappeared in a mystery that seemed to involve a woman, her suitor and a knife. He never learned or cared about the details.
The Basque were wide ranging fishermen, hunting whale and fishing for both tuna, and the cod which, salted and dried, fed much of Europe. They would travel as far as the North Sea, the coasts of Ireland, Iceland and Greenland, even to the banks off Newfoundland, little knowing or caring that this would soon be seen as part of a larger “new found land”.
Although the days at sea could be brutally cold and the backbreaking work of hauling in nets and setlines interminable, Lliago looked back on those innocent days with joy for the freedom of soul and spirit he had felt. At the end of each voyage, he would receive his share of the catch, dreaming of one day owning his own fishing vessel.
Several times a year he was able to get money home. A trusted friend would make the journey for him and deliver a few maravedí or blancas to his family. His mother would always scribble a small note to him, and indicate the amount she received. She might say, “We now have seven billys and five doe in our goat herd.” indicating that she had received Seven Maravedi and five Blancas. She felt it was a very clever way for her to inform her son how much money she had actually received and he enjoyed even that small contact.
A maravedi was worth about twenty dollars, or an average month’s wages on ship. There were thirty four maravedis in a real. A blanca was half a maravedi and a dinero a thirtieth. Although worth some in the cities, all had tremendous trading value in the countryside, where very few minted coins were available.
All that would change when at nineteen, his boat was captured by Tripolian pirates out of Algiers, as they were nearing harbor in what would soon be known as France. The fishing boats obviously carried little wealth, but the galleys out of Tripoli would capture these looking for replacement oarsmen to power their raiding vessels. These galleys would raid far and wide, sacking coastal villages as far away as England, before returning to the North coast of Africa.
He spent the next four months chained below deck, bending his back to the oars and the whip. Living in the filth and squalor of this most brutal form of slavery, even though it was of short duration, his abhorrence for any form of forced servitude was ground deep down into his soul. Thankfully, the pirates eventually attacked the wrong village. A large number of the rough and tumble Basque seamen were on shore, with several fishing vessels arriving shortly after the galley. The raiders became the captured, losing their craft and most of their lives.
Lliago had returned to fishing, when he heard of the need of sailors for the Crown’s voyage to the Far East. Now that would be an adventure!
Returning his thoughts to the present, Lliago stopped to admire the view from the point of the bay of his new home on Hispaniola. The ‘Fort’, the ugliest of stacked ship’s timbers, was thankfully, mostly hidden by trees. The Taino village, with its picturesque buildings of vertical logs and palm thatched roofs, were reflected in the mirror-still water of the Bay. He had no intention of ever leaving.
It had been several months since Admiral Colón had left for Sevilla, leaving thirty-nine sailors behind. Lliago was constantly amazed that this group still lived after Colón had betrayed the trust and friendship of Guacanagari, the native leader that had made their very survival possible.
They had been exploring the coast of what Colón had assumed to be a peninsula of the Chinese Mainland though in actuality it was Cuba or “Juana”. Although they had found none of the large trading ports that Colón expected they did find beautiful fertile valleys, friendly inhabitants who supplied all their needs in exchange for trinkets or nothing at all, and only an occasional squall to break up day after day of very pleasant sailing weather.
Reaching the eastern tip of Cuba, with Hispaniola spotted in the distance, Colón had insisted they carry on in a southeasterly direction, and the Pinzon brothers, captains and owners of the Niña and Pinta Caravels reluctantly acquiesced. They had been recalcitrant subordinates to Colón and their contempt for him was quite obvious.
Lliago recalled his first introduction to the Pinzon duo, when, back in Los Palos his captain had confronted the pair in Colón’s cabin, demanding that the elder Pinzon show Colón proper respect, while Lliago kept the younger Pinzon from interfering.
There had been several short storms when traveling to the next island. The elder Pinzon brother, Martin, had contrived to get separated during one of these squalls.
Certainly Colón was the leader of this voyage, but the two brothers were here to trade and make a profit, their only income to be derived from this venture. Colón’s title of “Admiral of the Ocean Sea” was a bit of a joke to these merchants, as they were not part of any formal navy, although they were careful to call him Admiral Colón in either the presence of Captain la Casa or myself. Colón, for his part, was aware that the success of this voyage depended on his ability to balance asserting his authority while not alienating the Pinzon Captains. It was rumored that the elder brother had taken the Pinta to the north. The Pinzons had argued earlier, after talking to the Taino inhabitants of Juana and calculating their latitude, that the mainland of a much larger landmass lay in that direction.
While slowly exploring the northern shore of what would be named Hispaniola, awaiting the reappearance of the Pinta, another storm hit, this one tremendously powerful and destructive.
Juan De La Cosa was both master and owner of the Santa Maria. He and Lliago had been working desperately for the past night and all that day to keep his ship off the rocky shores of Hispaniola, where it was being driven by the storm. Darkness was at hand again, and the ship and its people silently groaned at the thought of another night of fighting the sea.
It was unclear who was at the tiller when, upon seeing a calm bay, the ship was steered towards it. They were now running with the wind and waves, and all was much calmer, though shouts were still barely audible above the driving rain and remaining wind. The captain could be heard bellowing to the tillerman to “Full Port”, desiring to turn back into the wind, to bring the vessel to as much a stop as possible. When the ship did not turn, (it was later learned the tiller had broken), he ordered his men to take in the last scrap of sail to slow the vessel. Sullenly and soddenly, the sailors climbed to the spars once more, whipped about by the storm.
The singing in the rigging had died to almost nothing as the strain came off. Just as the last of the sail was lowered and it appeared as though they might smoothly cruise deep into the bay, the ship came to an abrupt halt with a wrenching crash, flinging two sailors crashing to the deck from the rigging and Captain La Cosa headlong into the mainmast. It took one more, large surge forward, settling solidly about two feet higher out of the water than usual, with the sound of breaking timbers and lighter wood from below deck.
On Christmas Eve, the Santa Maria ran aground on a reef a little over a mile from shore. The unconscious captain was rushed into Colón’s cabin, with Mateo, the ship’s physician, in attendance. With no time for recriminations or ascertaining fault, Lieutenant Lliago began shouting orders. The ship’s launches were quickly over the side and within minutes a desperate race to unload the cargo and lighten the Santa Maria was underway, in hopes to refloat her.
Unending hours of cold and wet, the night went on forever. Numb, blue fingers could scarcely hold onto anything, aching muscles, the adrenaline long gone, refusing to respond. After backbreaking efforts to save her, a fiery red dawn showed a clearing sky, lush green hillsides surrounding a calm bay… and the ship’s bottom torn out. She had settled firmly on the reef, her top decks now only inches above the sea.
As everyone was safely removed and landed on Hispaniola, a wet and bedraggled fifty-three men were soon surrounded by many thousands of curious natives .… with ten men left aboard the Niña.
As he had often done in the past when encountering new indigenous groups, Colón had the Niña discharge a canon in an attempt to awe the inhabitants. The wet powder went off with a fizzle and a white blast of smoke, perhaps as load as a strong cough. Combined with the bedraggled sailors on shore looking like half drowned rats, exhausted and dispirited, the attempt at gaining a psychological strength-based advantage failed miserably. With a growing crowd, including many men armed with clubs and wicked wooden axes, the sailors felt they were in grave danger, and drew their own weapons.
Lliago had noticed, especially in his recent travels, that whenever two groups of strangers met, each side would invariably begin in a defensive manner that often looked hostile when it was, in fact, merely cautious and curious. With the Europeans appearing so weak, frightened, and overly defensive, and with no leadership coming from a dazed Colón, Lliago recognized that this could deteriorate quickly into a massacre should one of his compatriots strike out in fear. Lieutenant Lliago took the lead, shouting orders for the men to pull themselves together and sheath their swords and daggers.
With the Europeans desperate for leadership and direction, he was mostly successful. The arrival of Guacanagari, a local chieftain, and his entourage of fierce and massive warriors, thankfully changed the dynamics completely. Pulling himself together, Colón, re-asserting his authority, presented himself to the great chief with a show of returning confidence.
A highly ornamented, and apparently drunk or addled advisor or priest seemed to be advising the leader to welcome and apparently honor these new arrivals. At the urging of this Shaman or magi, the leader invited Colón to partake of food and refreshment. This quickly diffused what could have been the end of Colón and his remaining crew.
Chapter 14 Lliago’s Reflections During Walk
Lliago reflected on how giving Colón and his men shelter and food, Guacanagari began unselfishly to cater to the needs of these strangers. After a week of recovery, Colón, however, began the odd but all too human transition from the grateful saved to the demanding guest. Reluctantly, Guacanagari allowed the sailors to build a fort-like structure out of wood salvaged from the Santa Maria, even giving some of his own people over to help with the task. Guacanagari had no doubt been instrumental in their survival.
Astonishingly, Colón rewarded this deliverance with the kidnapping of thirty of Guacanagari's people, including his youngest son and a niece. Although Colón made a feeble effort to present this as an honor for these captives, a chance to see Castile and the Catholic Monarchs, it was clear to all that the two kinsmen were merely hostages to secure the safety of the thirty-nine men Colón was to leave behind. With the urging of the Shaman, however, Guacanagari acquiesced.
Along with the recuperating Juan de la Cosa, Owner/ Captain of the Santa Maria, who would be returning to Hispania, a large portion of the ship’s crew were Basque. These ‘foreign’ independent men, with their own language, religion and customs, were a constant thorn for Colón, and most of those left behind were of that group.
Although the Bizkaia, from the southern reaches of the Bay of Biscay, were nominally under the control of Navarre and King Ferdinand of Aragon, these Basques were quite independent. They had been building ships to ply the Atlantic for tuna and whale for four centuries. The Santa Maria, in fact, had been Basque built. Although they were known to be the best sailors anywhere at that time, Colón had a great intolerance for their barbaric and heathen ways, “even though I understand his wife to be Basque” thought Lliago.
Taking these thirty natives, to be sold as slaves no doubt, did not set well with the thirty-nine men who were to be left behind. ‘Profit before their safety’ was the general feeling of these sailors, and giving up their return home for Colón’ pecuniary gain rankled.
Slavery, although not unknown in Europe, was particularly frowned upon by the Catholic rulers. Colón’s closeness to the Portuguese Crown however (and probable treasonous collusion with it in Lliago’s thinking) as well as the greed of the weak, deceitful Admiral, had led Colón to this travesty.
Sly merchant that he was, Colón convinced many of the soon to be abandoned sailors of the benefits in being left behind. Free to search for gold and explore, the honor to be gained as the first inhabitants in this new land, the hinted at but unspoken lure of the native women, he used all these to convince, and even enthuse, the men to remain behind.
“To make matters worse,” thought Lliago, “he left that worthless drunk, Martinez, as our leader”. A cousin of Columbus by marriage, Martinez had been made a captain, and put in charge of those left behind. Lazy, indecisive, dirty and lecherous, no one had any respect for him. The distaste and disgust of the Native Leader and his family towards Martinez was obvious to all but Martinez.
Chapter 15 Lliago Reflects On Illness
Lliago realized his peaceful walk had stopped, and he was angrily looking out to sea from the point of the bay. He began his return walk in a brown study, reflecting on the challenges he now faced.
Further crushing the sailors, a remorseless illness was now cutting a swathe through the remaining crew. Starting with black, ulcerous sores that would not close, then bone-breaking fever and chills, twelve of the crew were wasting away before their eyes, four others had already perished. Neither Mateo, the de facto physician of their party and close friend of Lliago’s, nor the healers of the Taino, were able to help, or had seen this malady before.
An ancient crone however, spoke of seeing this affliction five generations, one hundred years or so, before. “When she was a child, the Taino,” she said, “lived far to the south over the sea, in a beautiful stone city. Temples, aqueducts, palaces, food in plenty, slaves… they were masters of a huge area of land.”
The plague came out of nowhere and had annihilated the majority of the population, the remaining few stumbling around the city in shock and devastation. Everything collapsed. Food production ended, trade, and social structure no longer existed. Slave revolts, raids from former vassal states, burning of libraries…
Eventually a strong surviving chieftain organized those few remaining and took them down to the sea and the trading canoes. He brought these devastated survivors to Hispaniola, the first major island not in the grip of the deadly Carib Cannibals. The old woman was the last survivor of that massive migration. All Taino living, with the exception of the old healer, were descendants of those who had fled. The disease seemed not to have followed them… until now.
The healers suggested that the filth the sailors lived in and their lack of bathing was the cause. Burning all the bedding and everything in the shelter where they slept, and then beginning a daily bath in the sea with a rinse in the river, seems to have slowed further cases. A huge side benefit was that the stench of his compatriots was significantly lessened.
If only their lecherous souls could be cleansed as well. While the disease was at its worst, the spirit of the crew had shrunk from conquerors to men scared of their own shadows. Father Alonzo had used this fear to keep them repentant and in line. Worry of curses and retribution from God had made them behave, when nothing else could.
But as this fear subsided, their greed for gold, power and, most troublesome of all, women, again reared its ugly head. As sure as anything, Lliago knew that another assault or attempted rape would result in the death of all the remaining crew. Guacanagari had personally killed the last malefactor, ritualistically clubbing him to death in the main courtyard in front of the remaining foreigners and a huge crowd of his own, cheering people. He would not suffer another of his people to be hurt in any way. Only Lliago’s intersession and close ties to Guacanagari's oldest son and daughter had saved them all from being sacrificed as yet.
He considered his own lecherous self. Allemande, daughter of Guacanagari, occupied entirely too much of his thoughts, and not all of them as pure as he might wish. “My desire, however”,he thought,” is ultimately for her to be my wife, and to raise a fine family, on this island, my new land”.
He envisioned his future home, made of upright logs and a thatched roof in the Taino Style. He would have several aguacates close at hand (he felt he could easily live on these alone) and would have oranges, lemons, cumquats and pomegranates in his orchard brought from Cadiz. He would bring water into his home for cooking, drinking and bathing through a canal system.
There were smooth flat stones suitable for flooring and he would build a beautiful hearth for Allemande that would be the envy of all.
He saw his chubby round children running through the trees and playing in the water. Although he knew this as unrealistic, he envisioned his own parents looking on their grandchildren; free of the required toil to survive they had back in Europe.
Where his own childhood consisted of working, gathering, sweating and toil from sunup to sundown just to survive, children here had plenty of time to explore, play games, including Batey, a ball game with a surprisingly elastic ball, chasing and wrestling. Even their work seemed like good fun, collecting sea-creatures, and various fruits and berries throughout the countryside which comprised their backyard.
This bounty would also create time for instruction and learning. With his interaction with Allemande and her brother Cuan, heir apparent to Guacanagari, as well as a herd of children that always seemed to hang about his heals, he found these Taino to be quite inquisitive and intelligent. Although in just a month he had become fairly conversant in their tongue, the speed in which the Taino, especially the children, picked up language and concepts was stunning.
His in depth conversations with Guacanagari and his children on the subject of religious beliefs showed that, even though they had many gods and superstitions, the idea of one God overall, with his son sacrificing all for the good of man, was not anathematic to them.
He envisioned a peaceful cooperative society with a school, even a Cathedral where the Taino would flock for knowledge. There would be farms, trade, and wealth for all, each culture learning from the other and all to the glory of God.
Lliago stopped and looked to the bay for a moment, taking in a deep draught of the clean sea air and revelled in his sweet dream for a few minutes. As he began to walk again, as he neared the shelter where he and his fellow Basque lived, however, he brought to mind their seemingly limitless crudeness, greed, and brutality. “The Taino and Ari, the Taino word for foreigner, can never coexist in harmony.” He thought ruefully.
The goal of the invader would always involve subjugation and exploitation of the wealth and labor of these fine humans... And he was a part of this travesty! He glumly walked down to the fort.
Chapter 16) Father Alonzo
Padre Alonso was finding solace in drink. The natives made Pulque, a beverage that Alonso was aware he enjoyed quite a bit more than he should have. Lying in the shade of a small grove of plumaria in one of the Taino cotton nets or hammock, the trees choked with Alamanda vines and their flowers with bird of paradise below, he appeared like a fat, happy brown Buddha. A tiny rivulet at his feet, gurgled its short way down to the sea, almost disappearing in the sand as it spread thinner and thinner.
The little creek passed through a tiny shallow valley, perhaps only twenty yards across, which formed a small cove within the larger bay of the Taino. From his reclined position facing north, the priest had no view of the settlement and imagined himself alone in this paradise for a short time.
He was struggling with his lack of any spiritual influence over his tiny remaining flock. He felt intense guilt at each instance of assault, abuse or even rudeness committed by the Ari, as if it were his own weakness that allowed it to happen. With grief, guilt and loathing, and no ideas on how to improve the situation he had turned to prayer, drink and solitude, the order of importance varying by the day.
Lliago however, still sought his guidance, and Mateo, the Moorish Physician, turned to them both as the only ones suitable for conversation and discussion. They had set out on a walk along the shore, and coming across the spot, joined the slightly pickled priest in his solitude, he indicating his bowl of pulque with a nod of his head, silently inviting them to partake, which they promptly did.
Three more dissimilar individuals would be hard to find. Alonzo, a Castilian and clergyman currently at a crisis of faith, Lliago, a Basque and, although a baptized Catholic, more closely attuned to his peoples pagan beliefs with some astonishing parallels to the Taino creed, and Mateo, a Morisco Moor, converting to Catholicism for convenience sake with no real religion but an almost crushing ethic… Three completely differing points of view, engaging with one another, enjoying the process, and learning from each other; much would come from this nucleus.
From his higher perch on a low plumaria branch Lliago could see a group of young Taino girls and children splashing around in the waves a short distance away, while further off around the curve of the bay was seen the crew’s shelter, a few men lounging and laughing in its shade.
“This can only end badly”, began Lliago. “God help them,” obviously referring to the Taino. He and Mateo had been discussing the situation on their walk and continued it now. He plucked a pretty white alamanda bloom, studying its delicate, white beauty intently. “And God help us,” he added quietly after a few moments, distraught and looking off into the distance.
The pelicans were diving straight into a boiling patch of sea a few cables off, or about twelve hundred feet, where a school of feeder fish broke the surface. The buzz of insects and sigh of the warm breeze through the foliage enhanced the quiet while bringing the overwhelming scent of plumAria. There were several minutes of silent contemplation. Perhaps the most rewarding aspect of this trio was the fact that they actually thought things through, only commenting when they had something worthwhile to say. There was no ‘love of their own voice’, no need to fill a void with any talk at all from fear of silence.
“The three of us can keep these louts in line,” rejoined Mateo several minutes later, tossing a small pebble into the rill, as if Lliago had just spoken. “Do not be so despondent my friend,” he added with a pained smile, pushing Lliago off balance and off the limb with a friendly shove to the shoulder.
Pulling his booted foot from the muck of the creek he had stepped into to keep from falling, Lliago glared at Mateo for a moment as if he might draw his sword and run him through.
“You are correct about these miscreants,” Lliago agreed, looking away and jutting his strong chin in the direction of the hut. “But it is the hoard of adventurers, fortune hunters, and soldiers that Colón will soon enough drag here that bring me near to despair.” Pausing for a moment as he swiped his boot through the tall wet grass to clean it off he added, “If he was willing to kidnap thirty Taino, with only a skeleton force, what criminality might he accomplish with several thousands at his back?”
From Lliago’s time as captive, chained as a galley slave in an Arab Xebec, he had an unmatched intolerance of slavery. Alonzo and Mateo had formed strong attachment to the gentle, giving Taino and felt a strong protectiveness towards them.
As the obvious truth of his words sunk in his friends’ gloom sank to match Lliago’s.
“His Portuguese masters are making fortunes from enslaving Africans, forcing them to work the mines for precious metals, selling others as galley slaves or household servants. Look at the rape of the Guanche of the Canary Islands. The same story is inevitable here”, stated Lliago.
“But her Catholic Majesty Isabella will never allow it!” Alonso almost shouted in his deep sonorous voice. “She has outlawed the practice of slavery in all of her Kingdom. Even the defeated Moors in Granada will be forced to give up their slaves if they wish to remain in her kingdom,” he continued with some heat, his face scarlet with agitation...and perhaps the liquor. After a minutes pause, “You worry for nothing,” he said weakly, with a dismissive impatient wave of his hand. It was obvious he did not believe his own words. He too had witnessed the slave ships and galleys in the Canary and the debasement of her peoples, all ostensibly under the control of the Monarchs. They could not be everywhere he knew.
After a few minutes, Mateo volunteered, “If there is not market in the Catholic Monarchs kingdom, Colón will either go to the Portuguese or the Italians. Where there is a real, or even a maravedí to be made, the merchants will find a way to it. Columbus has demonstrated that he is willing to sink to any depth to secure his fortune and fame.” Mateo did not share the deep seated hatred of slavery held by his two companions, but had instead an almost chivalric need to protect the seemingly weak and vulnerable Taino. He had quickly come to love these gentle people.
“Perhaps, God willing, he has sunk in a storm in the Atlantic and the problem is solved,” muttered Alonzo, despondently looking into the bottom of the now empty pulque jug.
They sat silent for a time, each concluding that all was said.
And as they sat and contemplated, slowly the beauty around them, the sky, the sea, the children’s laughing cries, the here and now, had its calming effect. For the moment, everything was well and good.
As despondent as they had been, Lliago could not help but grab the back of Mateo’s tunic as he jumped the stream for their return. Halting him in mid flight, Mateo dropped solidly into the water having to drop a hand to keep from falling all the way in. Then, using Mateo’s shoulder Lliago vaulted the stream himself and trotted, laughing back down the beach, while Mateo, cursing, trudged behind in sodden boots.
“Our deep thinkers and future leaders,” Alonzo mused to himself. He started chuckling as he hoisted his bulk from the ground and trudged across the steam with no attempt to jump it. He was off to teach the Taino children the Castilian language and of Jesus.
Chapter 15) Allemanda
It started with contempt of course. The smell of these creatures, apparently incapable of bathing themselves, was particularly off putting. Combined with their animal like hairiness, they were a particularly disgusting specimen of men. Even the barbaric, cannibalistic Carib at least knew how to bathe!
They had, for the most part, the same Aura of evil that hovered around the Carib, a thin blue smokey film that made them appear slightly blurred to my eye.
Colón and his close comrades had it to a striking degree, and my sense of danger from the man himself made me almost ill in his presence.
The Crone had compared them to the tiny forest dwellers from the land the Taino had come from. Mischievous thieving monkeys, whom the Taino fed, and allowed to roam around their cities at will. There was no way to control them. “These Ari will become much more than mere pests,” the crone had said. “You will see.” In my mind I had to agree.
Although I run around mostly naked, as all Taino men and women do, and I never gave it a moment’s thought, until these disgusting animals, with no sense of propriety or self-control, began to let their eyes rove over all the other Taino females. The idea of looking at a host’s wife or daughter in un-disguised desire was… unheard of, unforgivable, beast like. What mothers raised such abominations?
But there were a few that seemed able to control their base emotions and, although still pungent to the point that my eyes might water, apparently knew how to act around other humans. They had no evil aura.
Lliago, several inches taller than his fellows, was one such. He was capable of addressing the Cacique and his wife equally, and communicates with other women with proper respect, as equals of importance and status, without making them uncomfortable or looked down upon. Although it was clear he was attracted to me (we often caught each other stealing glances at one another… like shy children), he looking away with an embarrassed smile. It was all done innocently enough.
I was used to looks of admiration from men, what woman does not appreciate it? But the slathering, hungry, dog-like stares of the Ari, these ignorant strangers, towards our women were unacceptable. If one of these fetid, mangy dogs looks at me in such a manner I will surely skewer it with a thrusting lance to teach it manners and deference.
Through mostly gestures, and an uncanny ability to pick up words in our language, the tall, dark Ari quickly learned to communicate and became a favorite in our household, much to the annoyance of his own Cacique, Colón’.
Within a few days of their arrival, Lliago and Cuan, my younger brother and next only to our parents and myself in prestige, had become as close as brothers. Although Lliago was kept busy during the day helping in the construction of Colón’s ridiculous shelter, they would always be together in the afternoons, speaking a strange child-like mixture of their two languages, with the aid of pictures drawn in the sand or through hand gestures.
Sometimes comically, but more often frustratingly, their conversations would break down to idiotic sentences like…”Me… hungry!”” Me…food…want! You… food… want?”… I sensed Lliago’s discomfiture and embarrassment for Cuan when I would strike the back of my brother’s head or berate him for speaking in such a low, uncouth manner, so I would save the most severe of my corrections for later.
Who spoke this way? Rather than help Lliago with his speech, Cuan was lowering his own speech to match Lliago’s! As with all nobility, Cuan’s language was usually very clear and concise, with none of the low slang of the Naboria. Yet, I must admit, they were making great progress.
As the daughter of the Cacique of course, it was my duty to witness these exchanges and learn what I could of these strange men. I would often be within hearing, or glancing over their shoulders to see the drawings. This seemed not to bother Lliago in the least, and he would frequently try to draw me into the conversation. When they would stumble over a word or explanation, I would often surprise myself by uttering a word or two to help.
Concerning their construction? Never had I witnessed such heroic labor, so much time and effort wasted on such a comical endeavor. With their ropes, and interesting wheels and pulleys, with so many injuries and cursing, they were able to construct… a complete disaster. Somehow, it was able to capture the wind, creating a gale within from just a breeze, and yet still contain almost all the smoke of their cook’s fires. It would have been wise to burn it right along with its contents. Thankfully the smell of the smoke that permeated their clothes and skin, masked their natural stench, making them more tolerable.
They built this structure from the timbers of their destroyed ship. My father had commented wryly that they could have felled every tree on the island and built a village with the effort spent on retrieving these beams from miles out in the sea. “It keeps them busy and out of my way at least,” jested the Cacique.
Often Father Alonzo would join our small discussions. He was the spiritual leader of the Ari, the foreigners. He was much like our shaman, although much more jovial and approachable. He would do much more listening than speaking, but then would come out with complete and correct phrases occasionally. Apparently, like me, he wanted to skip the baby steps and wait until he had some command of the new language before fully participating.
The spirituality of the Ari was both interesting and confusing, much like our own I suppose. He would seem to claim they worshiped but one God, but then would go on to describe four or five different entities quite similar to our own Zemi.
Mary, the mother, was very similar to Kiskeya, our own earth mother who watched over and cared for us all. Easy enough to understand and picture. Jehovah, their father God seemed to be a combination of several of our more benevolent Zemi, similar to Atabey, who of course created herself, and her son, Yocahu, who populated the earth with all good things. They both, Yocahu and Jehovah could also be quite fierce at times.
They, Mary and Jehovah seemed to have two children, Jesus and Satan, who fought constantly, Satan constantly tricking man into doing evil.
More important than the language, both Pané and Lliago, as well as another of their close companions, Mateo, quickly adopted the idea of bathing, which somehow seemed to escape the others. Soon they began to smell almost human, and could even be tolerated indoors.
So as not to be unseemly, my cousin Maya would also join our group. Usually full of laughter and fun, she seemed struck mute by Mateo, and would spend most of the time, shyly stealing glances at him. It was clear that soon they were on intimate terms and began to spend a tremendous amount of time together on the shore or walking through the forests or elsewhere working on lessons of their own. Not much use, but she made my visits with this group acceptable.
That Lliago never approached me was both frustrating and confusing. Speaking with Father Alonzo, I learned that the custom in their culture was to have a formal union first before becoming intimate. As unnecessary as this was, it was clear I had to be patient. What nonsense!
At what point Lliago became more than a curiosity? Who can say? To my very practical mind, it made no difference.
Chapter 18) Sending off Martinez
As one of the Santa Maria’s officers as well as scribe, Lieutenant Lliago was second in command of those remaining few sailors. He had come up with a scheme to both fortify their shelter and keep the crew busy and working, with less time for getting into trouble. Although he completely sympathized with the Taino, he took his position, the lives of these sailors, and his own safety seriously, and would do what he could to keep those remaining alive and out of conflict with their hosts.
He had convinced Captain Martinez of the necessity of the exploration of the vicinity being supervised by Martinez himself. This was accomplished by playing on the captain’s fear for his own skin, as well as by playing on his pride by hinting at Colón’s pleasure when he returned to find a well-fortified, organized camp. The fact that Martinez would be spared of contributing to this backbreaking effort by going exploring was also tremendously helpful.
“We will need powder and shot for the guns and cannon”, explained Lliago. “Only you, Captain, and the two necessary workers, should know where we can get our materials. He convinced him that he should take Salvador and Astilla, the only Castilians remaining, along with a few friendly Taino, to secure the saltpeter, and sulfur needed for gunpowder, as well as locate a source for lead.
Martinez was also convinced that he would also likely find gold…
The captain did not see himself as particularly mean, grasping or evil. In fact he had a hard time figuring why the men disliked him so much. He put it down to his relationship to Colón by marriage, and his having received this ‘honor’ of commanding the settlement due to this nepotism rather than exceptional ability. A combination of their jealousy of his position and their distaste for Colón, as he had deserted them in this jungle hell, was the driving force.
Back home on Madeira he had had everything he ever wanted. His family owned a beautiful home in Funchal, as well as a large upland plantation, growing bananas, fennel and grapes, a place to escape the summer heat of town.
His cousin, Felipa Moniz Perestrelo, a noblewoman by birth and related to King John of Portugal, was twenty five and well on her way to permanent convent life when introduced to Colón. She had no family money to speak of. Her title and her connections however, made her quite attractive to Colón, while Colón’s attention, his willingness to forgo a dowry, and their similar religious fervor made him a favorable match for her.
The uncle of Martinez, the leader of the family, accused him of growing fat and lazy on Madeira. He suggested that Martinez accompany Colón on this adventure to gain experience and discipline. As he had been fat and lazy from birth, Martinez failed to see the issue with continuing on in this manner. However, as this uncle held the family’s purse strings, the key to both his and his parents easy life, he simply had to go along.
Getting away from the settlement, from the disdainful looks of Lliago and his men, as well as the contempt that Guacanagari and his people showed him, the chance to stroll the lanes of the shady jungle, with porters to carry supplies, and cook for them sounded wonderful.
He had no real greed to speak of, but felt that if he were able to locate the source of the gold the islanders displayed, it would go a long way towards gaining Admiral Colón’s favor. He could return to Madeira a hero and live out his life in peace.
Salvador, a quiet taciturn gunners’ mate, seemed quite confident in his ability to reproduce the explosive powder from the ingredients available on the island. “It will take some experimentation to get the proper mix together”, he said with some pride, “but soon enough I’ll have success.” Salvador, a family man who spoke no Basque did not get on with most of the crew, and was glad to be employed in something he knew. He looked forward to the time he’d have away from the others.
Astillo, the Santa Maria’s carpenter, had worked some in the smelters of Toledo where steel was produced and turned into swords, daggers and all manner of tools and weapons. He was less confident that he could even recognize lead in its natural form, let alone extract it for pistol and cannon ball, but was willing to give it a try. He too, was grateful to be employed in something useful, and to be away from the monotony and boredom of camp.
Accompanied by two young Taino guides, these three Ari headed into the island’s interior.
New Chapter 19) Canons, Juan and Lliago
“Because she is not a Christian she really doesn’t even have a soul,” stated Juan Grande. Even had I no wife back home, I could not marry her if I wanted to. After a few moments reflection he added, “…and am under no obligation to do so”, saying these words as if it were a truth handed him directly from God on high. The fact that he made these statements out of the blue seemed to show some guilt or shame in Lliago’s estimation.
This group spoke in Euskara or Basque, as it was becoming known. Although Lliago’s family lived along the Ebro or Ager River, which was solidly under control of Navarre, Ferdinand’s Kingdom, he grew up speaking Basque along with all his young friends and neighbors, learning Castilian as a second language from trading in the towns, as well as conversational Catalan.
In his time working the boats and docks on the Bay of Biscay he had learned the choicest of crude words and curses… and even knew what some of them meant. However, he had grown up with his mother’s quite proper speech reinforced by his father’s thunderous hand. He always spoke respectfully as well as properly, much to the annoyance of most of this crowd of rough and tumble sailors who felt he thought himself better than they.
“Etxekotasuna arrazen mespretxua !”... familiarity breeds contempt. Lliago was not trying to be their friend and was aware that proper speech set him apart and gave him some eminence above this group. He maintained his aloofness, proper and clear language as well as a commanding bearing.
His mother had been brought up in a convent in Cantabria and had been a favorite of a Basque Nun. Orphaned by the plague, her own mother had had the foresight to pay an endowment to a convent for her care and instruction. She had been taught to read some in Latin, most of the root words almost identical to Castilian, but she had revelled in the stories told by this pious and well educated woman in their native Basque.
How this vivacious and talkative woman and his father who barely spoke, met and married was a mystery but she had passed on an appreciation of clear and proper speech. When asked about their story, his parents would look slyly at each other with knowing and somewhat embarrassed smiles and go silent. “Perhaps some things were better left a mystery”, thought Lliago as they rowed out into the bay.
Although half a league out to sea, at low tide, the Santa MAria sat at only a depth of fifteen feet. The water was astonishingly clear above the reef and it appeared you could reach down and touch bottom. The swell couldn’t have been more than a foot, with a thousand foot plus interval, almost imperceptible but for the slight tug on the anchor every few minutes.
Mateo, with a few native boys, could be clearly seen as they struggled with the stiff ropes a few meters down, trying to secure them to the cannon is such a way that they would not slip off. Mateo could only stay down a short minute, while the boys would stay so long that Lliago was constantly nervous for their safety. It was clear they were trying to outdo each other.
Lliago was kicking at a knot in the rough decking, absently trying to worry it lose.
“I would have thought that any human creature created by God must have a soul,” Lliago returned, hiding his frustration and disdain for this ignorant miscreant behind a wide and friendly smile.
Juan’s pitiful attempt to justify his untenable position was almost too much to bear. However, if Lliago was going to steer this crew towards co-existence and harmony with their hosts, He could not ferociously attack every ignorant word uttered. No one, in any age, appreciates being dictated to. Example, logic and patience would be a much better way to bring someone over to his point of view.
He also thought it strange that Juan felt he must explain or justify his actions. Could it be that Juan himself was questioning his own actions and looking for approval from others?
He also had a desire to further cultivate this spirit of cooperation and friendliness that he had been enjoying since Captain Martinez had left camp. On their makeshift raft, two miles from shore, the remaining crew were enjoying the day with a festive air. The imbecilic and bullying Martinez, a proud Portuguese buffoon, was out of the way leaving the more relaxed Lieutenant Lliago, a fellow Basque, in charge. These professionals could use their expertise in ropes, knots, splices and blocks without someone looking over their shoulder and second guessing every move. As they had already scavenged all the usable wood, locating the cannon was not too difficult, although the sand would have covered them in just a few more weeks.
The men were packed fairly closely on the small raft, and when the cannon or shot was brought on board there was much jostling resulting in many stubbed or stepped upon toes. One sailor was knocked clean overboard to the amusement of all but himself. The horse hair ropes would burn and often leave slivers. However, the physical activity and accomplishment along with other hard working men was its own reward, and all were in a cheerful mood.
As with every group of this sort there were natural leaders and natural followers. Juan Grande was a huge and potentially brutal man, and not a few of those remaining both feared him and looked to him for direction, even though Lliago was theoretically in charge. He could see they were hanging on every word of this conversation, both as a sort of entertainment, and as a way to see which direction the wind would blow.
Further, Lliago admitted to himself, he was unclear of his own feelings and position.
Philosophically he “knew” that every human had the same intrinsic value, that life of the galley slave was just as valuable as King Ferdinand’s. Yet every aspect of daily life contradicted this truth. The coxswain of a galley could literally beat a slave to death with no repercussions. A landowner could extract any amount of labor from any worker or servant, of any age, with no penalty. Female servants as well as boys, could be used monstrously, with no recourse. The hierarchy from king on down to slave, the “might makes right” reality was well entrenched.
Most any sailor in the Mediterranean was familiar with slavery. The trading galleys of the Arab world visited most ports and the horrible conditions of their galley slaves were there for all to see. Trapped beneath the main deck, living in their own waste and filth they were treated worse than any beast of burden. Even swine in their filthy sty would not be beaten as these creatures were. It was felt by many that these “brutes” were less than human.
Lliago’s own time as a galley slave however, thankfully short though it was, caused Lliago to especially eschew forced servitude.
In the homes of the nobles, the wealthy, and even many of those struggling by in the Hispania of the fifteenth century, were servants, maids and workers who lived a life just a rung above slavery. Relying completely on their masters for bread and shelter, with starvation and the road their only option, they were bound to that estate by chains as strong as iron. This forced servitude bred contempt, these sub-humans being treated little better than tools to be used.
It was clear that this same disdain would be bestowed on the natives of this new land. How was he, Lliago, one man, going to be able to convince his subordinates, let alone all of the coming Ari, to go against subjugation and exploitation, which was far and away the norm?
Further complicating the issue, far from being exploited, the consort of Juan seemed quite pleased with the arrangement.
“What has brought you to this conclusion Juan?” Lliago asked, in a tone that he hoped would appear as if he felt we were equals having an intelligent discussion.
Both the peace and the conversation was suddenly disrupted by a school of mackerel being herded by tuna and dived on by pelicans, erupting in the sea barely twenty yards off, disappearing just as quickly a minute later.
The weather of this March day was perfect, bright warm sunshine and the softest of cool breezes to keep the temperature down. The men worked in quiet and calm, different from their usual boisterous and bombastic manner. Even the two Juans, usually the most troublesome of those remaining, seemed relaxed and friendly. For the first time Lliago felt that this group could, in fact, get along with and, perhaps, live in peace among their hosts.
“The Church tells us that those un-baptized are little better than the beasts in the field.” returned Juan Grande. Lliago could not hope to argue intelligently, as the Church was fairly ambivalent on the point. Juan’s statement almost seemed a question, especially considering the searching, un-confrontational look in Juan’s eye.
There was quite a bit of down time between lifting each cannon. Mateo and the Tiani youths had to struggle mightily to get the stiff ropes to cooperate. There was the usual joculArity of rough men working together, Juan Chico the butt end of many of the jokes. He seemed to take it well.
As expected, it took several hours to perfect the method for securing the ropes lifting the cannon and swinging it onboard the raft. No one was in any kind of rush, talking, enjoying the sun, enjoying the holiday of sorts. A few of the Basques brought out hand lines and tried fishing for amusement. There was some excitement as a monstrous fish; twice the size of the Moor, with a huge, gaping mouth approached the swimmers. Mateo shot from the water like a cork from effervescent wine much to the amusement of the Taino youths. Their fit of laughter from the surface of the water, one of the boys choking on a bit of inhaled water in his mirth assured all that the massive intruder must be harmless. Once the first canon was successfully secured, the remaining five came in relatively quickly.
The twin “two pounder” brass canon, with a 1” bore, had virtually no noticeable damage from their two month submersion, with sand and water pouring from the breach as they were swung on board. The four “seven pounders” which shot a fist sized ball, had some flaking and pitting, but would certainly be serviceable.
As we headed back in, helped by both the incoming breeze and swell, Juan sat down beside me and we both gazed towards the Taino village in silence for a while. “I almost wish we had never made it ashore… or they had just killed us outright!” flatly stated Juan, surprising me more with the profound look of sadness in his eye than even his words as we looked on the peaceful scene as the orange and sepia wash of the approaching sunset bathed the village.
“If Colón never returns and I can spend the rest of my days with Bizma and her two sons, build a little hut of our own just past that point of the bay, raise a few crops and catch a few fish…” Juan trailed off.
As the woman Juan Grande was involved with seemed quite satisfied with the arrangement, and as Lliago had no strong moral ground to stand on, and as it seemed to be having the effect of lessening some of the tension between the two groups, Lliago dropped the subject, now knowing that Juan’s bluster was just that. It was clear that the big man cared about these people and their future.
Lliago and Juan watched the afternoon wain over Marién as they approached the village and contemplated their place in it, not without some complacency. It was only hours however, before the second wave of invaders would be leaving the Old World, headed for the New.
Next Chapter 20) Back to Franco in Spain
I was finally out of Colón’s cabin and on deck, relieved from my duties as scribe.
Half a world away from Marién, we eased down the Guadalquivir River from Seville in the Mariagallante, Admiral Colón’s flagship. With the grand sendoff, speeches, prayers and blessings, we didn’t get on the way until early afternoon. Using the rivers current, and an occasional pull of an oar for steerage, it would take a little over ten hours to reach Cadiz and the rest of the ships, half the time following a small lit boat when it was dark. We moved a little quicker than a fast walk on land.
Although I had been looking forward to this sightseeing cruise through the gentle green lowlands on the way to the coast, I ended up below taking down last minute messages and letters, as well as notes on the unending flow of meetings with the various merchants and nobles, investors in the voyage who had come along for the opportunity of a last minute meeting with the Admiral. Some would be rowed ashore as we passed a town, others going all the way to Cadiz to return to Seville later.
I did get a break when a certain merchant, speaking Spanish but with a heavy Portuguese accent began speaking with Admiral Colón about the transport of cargo on the return trip. They began to discuss the feasibility of using the animal transports to secure the return cargo in, as the animals, horse, cattle, swine and goats, would be left behind in the new world. They were so excited and engrossed in this possibility that both forgot I was there recording the gist of their conversation for Colón’s records.
Embarrassed when he realized my presence, Colón excused me, asking me to leave my notes behind. I was confused by his unease but so glad to finally be able to escape, to be on deck that I gave it little thought at the time.
I was surprised that it was only mid-afternoon. It had felt that I had been in Admiral Colón’s cabins for much longer. I was saddened to see that we had already passed my village of Jerez, just minutes before. Had I just missed seeing my family waving at the ship from the small port there? My young heart fairly ached to see them once more.
It was a beautiful late summer afternoon with cool, fresh breezes coming up the river from the coast clearing out the river smells and heat.
I had grabbed some bread and cheese from the steward who was still busy organizing his stores in a cabin of sorts below, and found a spot on the port side that was out of the way of the crew.
Strolling the ship were the two young lieutenants, the sons of nobles who had secured positions on the flagship. They were around my age but our social class differences would have made it inappropriate for me to introduce myself. I instead, made my way toward Ramon Pané, a Catalan priest whom I had met earlier. He was sitting on one of the barrels that had yet to be stored, at the stern, or rear of the ship, on the raised deck above Colón’s cabin.
“Greetings young Master Francisco, it appears the Admiral has finally set you free” said Pané in his oddly accented Castilian. Among the crew were many from Catalonia and Pané was one such. In the North East of the country now ruled by Isabella and Ferdinand, which collectively was Espania, or Hispania, depending on your accent, Catalonia had united with the rest of Spain upon the marriage of the Catholic Monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella. To each other they spoke Catalan which, although had many similar words to Castilian, was generally unintelligible to me.
There were many Basque as well, from the Bay of Biscay, whose language had no relation to Castilian, Latin or Catalan.
“Good afternoon Father,” I said, with proper deference to his position. I had enjoyed many conversations with the Padre over the course of the past few weeks. He was closely attached to the voyage, acting as a liaison between the Church, the Monarchs and Colón. I had been the scribe at many of their meetings and, somehow had struck up a friendship.
We were both quite interested in the Indios, those that had come from Hispaniola on Colón’s return voyage this past spring. The youngest son of the great Cacique Leader of the Taino, as the Indios called themselves, as well as one of the Cacique's nieces, had become favorites of Isabella. It was unclear if they were to be on this trip. The other ten remaining Taino were definitely returning, in fact they were on board the Niña, waiting in Cadiz.
Of the thirty Taino brought from Hispaniola, eighteen Taino had died either on the voyage or during their last few months in Seville. A terrible disease had befallen them along with most of the crew of the Niña. It had quickly spread to the physicians at court, as well as their families and the Sisters of St Francis who had cared for them, with incredible speed and devastating results. It still seemed to be spreading through the poorer inhabitants of Seville.
“Each of these poor souls has experienced some symptoms of the disease and all have lost a loved one.” answered Pané to my question of the well-being of the remaining Taino. “They are both terrified of the return journey and hopeful that they are putting this nightmare behind them.”
It was around the twelfth hour (6 pm) and the tide would be coming in soon. The dying breeze would shift, coming down the valley towards the sea as evening approached, and the jib sail will be let out giving us steerage way and a push the rest of the way down to the bay of Cadiz. A small pilot boat with a red lantern would guide the Mariagallante to the deep channels and keep it out of the shallow mud along the way.
For now we were just lazily drifting with the flow of the river. Unfortunately all the refuse and filth throw in upriver was floating down with us, along with its accompanying odor, vying with the freshness of the surrounding fields and late summer flowers blooming here and there along the shore.
As I contemplated a tangle of rope, vegetation and what may have been part of a chair in the brown-green water, I considered the crystal streams and rivers of Colón’s islands. He had described these new Hispanic lands in almost poetic tones, over and again to each of his potential investors. Lush exotic growth, overhanging crystal rivers, shading this pure water as it made its way down to white sands and the azure and turquoise of an unspoiled sea. In each retelling, his eyes would grow distant, and even a little misty. Certainly he was convincing. Could this land really exist?
As my teenage mind went on to adding half naked island maidens frolicking in this water, this fantasy fostered by Colón’s description of all natives wearing little or nothing, I quickly came back from my reverie, hoping Padre Pané, who seemed to be looking at me intently, had not been able to follow my thoughts.
I coughed a little, as if I had said something inappropriate and wanted to pass over this coarseness quickly and asked, “What does The Church say about these Taino and their souls?”
New Chapter 21) Franco and Father Pané Discuss Taino
Pané stared at me for what seemed like an hour, although it was certainly less than a minute. He seemed to be weighing our own past discussions, the question itself of course and his own beliefs. Almost flippantly asked as a diversion from thoughts of cavorting native girls, this question would form the backbone of all our future discussions, and could even be said, the backbone of this whole endeavor.
“My own soul and mind are heavy with this question,” he finally answered. “…but it is not a question I want to answer with just a few quips,” he added after yet another awkward pause.
It was a pause I would eventually get used to, and learn to use the time to attempt to fully listen and understand what was being said as my father had taught me.
“I wish to speak with you as a friend, as an equal,” he started”, not as a priest or someone with all the answers, but as two people simply discussing how things are, and perhaps how they should be. That way we both may learn something. I would also like our conversations of this matter kept between the two of us.” he almost demanded, his usually soft brown eyes now piercing and hard. “Not only through contemplation do we find answers but also in the free exchange of ideas between people.”
I readily agreed, torn between the honor being bestowed on me as a confidant to this holy man, but also greatly troubled that he did not have a ready answer for this seemingly simple question.
Further, I was often puzzled as to why mature, intelligent adults always seemed to want to confide in me, ask my opinion on matters far beyond my years and experience. A country rustic with just seventeen years of age and both Pané and Colón were trying out new, provocative proposals and ideas on me. Perhaps their own opinions were only half cooked? Out of fear of being thought a fool, it always took me a while to form an answer. I also had a slight stutter when hurried or nervous and always worked hard to control that, so my speech was always slow and deliberate. From their point of view I suppose, they knew I would listen without comment until they were ready for them and that I wouldn’t immediately attack their more outlandish suppositions until I had fully digested them.
“This is a discussion that will last the voyage,” he said, “…but I will state for now, they absolutely have souls and the Church will do all it can to protect them and bring them to a knowledge of the Christ”.
Nothing more of consequence was said at that time. I was still a novice in the world and had not the time nor experience to have any firm position on the treatment of foreigners or their place in the grand scheme.
Chapter 22) On to the Canaries
It was clear now that I was a natural born sailor. Near a week on the open seas and I had experienced none of the sea sickness I had been cautioned about. Perhaps the day after day of perfect weather as we headed southwest, with very little swell, a following breeze that eased us a long with little feeling of movement, the good food and fresh air had something to do with it.
The two young noblemen, lieutenants on Colón’s flagship, had decided I was worthy of notice, once they heard who my father was and of his direct participation in the ouster of the Moors from Granada. They were both chatting in the shade of the sails on the starboard rail when I came up for breakfast, five days out from Cadiz.
“Saca!” they cried in unison, clapping me on the back in a familiarity that made me cringe a little. I had barely been introduced to these two and wasn’t entirely sure I liked them…, but it would be a long voyage and another of my father’s admonitions to make accommodations for the peculiarities of others that you would be in the extended company of came to mind. “It would be a hell of sorts, being stuck on a small ship with people you have a strong dislike for, for months at a time,'' he warned.
Saca was the process used to age and fortify the sweet wines of my area. The resulting liquor was known as Sac, Sherry or Jerez depending on where you lived. Although my father was making some income from producing barrels of the syrupy sweet concoction, he would only serve or drink from barrels that had been aging for extended periods of time, and usually only in the evenings in winter. More often it, or a variety that was more like vinegar, was used for cooking. A loin of pork simmered in this vinegar with an abundance of rosemary comes to mind and makes my mouth water even now. I knew that Colón had a few barrels, gifts from my father, on board for his enjoyment.
For these two, alcohol and females seemed to dominate all of their thought and conversation, and they had instantly landed on Saca as my ‘nom de guerre’ for the voyage. While I admit the female dominates ninety percent of my thoughts, it rarely comes out in conversation. And growing up with wines and spirits readily available, and drunkenness despised, alcohol held no temptation for me. Saca seemed about as inappropriate as could be.
But conversation was easy as either one or both were constantly speaking and it wasn’t terribly important to them if I were attentive or even pretending to listen. I could daydream or think deep thoughts, my mind far from these two for extended periods without either taking offence or even noticing.
And they were always in good humor, with many a witty quip and laughter that seemed to help pass the time.
Coming out of a reverie at one point however, I realized I had agreed to go visit the “Girls” with them once we reached the Canaries. “Madonna Santa protect me!” I thought to myself.
Colón himself would stroll his deck several times a day as well, and would often share an anecdote from his past or impart some of his wisdom. I was quite comfortable with him by this time. The days passed pleasantly.
Chapter 23) Food aboard the Mariagallante
I had learned somewhere that Roman soldiers received a portion of their pay in the form of salt for their food, or salaria as it was called. This word salaria was used even in these modern times to signify the pay of a clerk or government official.
With that in mind, I was being paid a king’s ransom!
We dined mostly on pork or beef that had been brined for ages. No matter how long it soaked it tasted like hard leathery bits of salt floating in a cementitious mush of peas or grain of some sort that picked up the saltiness of the meat and amplified it. Only the salt-less hard biscuits and the watered down beer cut through this.
The food was cooked, or more precisely, boiled in a massive cauldron over a fire in a two foot by three foot firebox, the fogon just forward of the mainmast. This iron box sat on flat stones so as not to set the deck on fire. Wind screens were used as there was always a breeze from somewhere and great care taken so that sparks or embers wouldn’t fly into the hold through the hatchways. With dried stores and gunpowder below a burst of sparks provided excitement! Every sailor had a story of a boat going up in flames from just such a mishap, although they seemed to have a story of death and destruction for most any situation.
So far we had enjoyed only wonderful sunshine and following breezes, but I had heard that we might go days without a hot meal in inclement weather.
Out of boredom, I would regularly lend a hand to the ancient cook.
The meat was first soaked in sea water which removed much of the brine, then into a tub of freshwater for an hour or so. It would then be chunked up and thrown in whatever was the mash of the day. It would alternate between peas, chickpeas, barley and rice, no extra seasoning added. Hard tack biscuit would be crumbled in by the sailors as they ate to help cut the salinity.
Occasionally a fish or two would be caught over the side and our ‘Chef’ would cook it up for a bit of it. The admiral would often be offered a steak of tuna, barracuda or the wonderfully oily mackerel. But, with seventy men on board, a few tuna would usually cause more problems than it was worth. Non vale la pena! Not worth the pain!
Although the food was universally miserable, I ate up every morsel, and was constantly hungry for more. Youth and fresh sea air I suppose.
The officers, Colón and I also had some private stores to augment the fine shipboard dining. The lieutenants had a goat which gave us all milk for the coffee. I had two chickens who were supposed to provide me with eggs but appeared would go in the pot instead. I also had a lamb, perhaps sheep would be more accurate, which would be butchered tomorrow and eaten grilled over the next several days by Colón and his party, including myself. No part would go to waste and on the fourth day, before it became too “ripe” the less savory parts would be added to the general mess, that is, added to the crew’s chickpeas as a special treat.
The animals were all cared for by a husbandry man, who could be seen escorting the menagerie around the deck at different parts of the day, including two ducks belonging to Colón that had become precious to me. Every morning I would join Colón in his cabin and write out any letters or messages he required, as well as make any important entries into the ship’s log where things like speed, direction, distances, encounters and the like. were noted.
Invariably, his ship boy would enter with two beautiful bright yellow and extremely large duck’s eggs, with a thick slice of ham and grilled bread. Invariably, I would be offered some which I never refused. That would have been an insult!
Chapter 24) Colón’s Plan to Conquer Taino and Settle Hispaniola Revealed
Often Juan De la Cosa, the captain of the Mariagallante as well as an experienced soldier would join us. He had become a confidant of Colón’s and was often consulted in plans for the control of Hispaniola. Often in the fight to drive the Moors from Spain, a captured town of ten thousand inhabitants could be held and controlled by a very small garrison of soldiers. But it took planning discipline and not a small amount of tact to make this work. With cooperation from a few leading citizens it could be easy, anger the wrong set and it was impossible.
Colón anticipated no trouble bringing the islanders peacefully under Spanish control, but by knowing the island the typography and a bit about the current governance of the islands, La Cosa could help avoid pitfalls, and ensure their five hundred armed soldiers, with twenty cavalry, were sufficient for the job.
As I had yet to meet a Taino, and knew little of soldiering or strategy, I had nothing to contribute, but I dutifully recorded the salient points made by these two, as well as other captains that would join us from time to time. Similar to the strategy employed in the Canaries of using one tribe to help conquer another, Colón felt strongly that by securing a foothold in Guacanagari’s Cacicazgo, or sphere of control, they could then use the Cacique and his men to conquer the rest of the island. “There are always conflicts and discord between neighbors to exploit,” he reasoned in a chilling matter of fact manner. Once again, a phrase or sentiment completely at odds with the pious, Christian persona, threw me off.
It was similar to hearing of ancient Sparta however, where the infirm or mentally challenged, or God forgive, physically handicapped would be sacrificed, killed off to strengthen the Spartan core. Horrific of course, yet so remote, without any personal relationship, it was mostly just words. The Guanche of the Canaries and the Taino of Hispaniola were just shadowy figures, so words like “exploit, conquer, slave, conflict had only conjured vague, disturbing emotions at this point. It was simply the way of the world. I had not yet developed the absolute and overwhelming abhorrence that was to come.
The days passed slowly with hours upon hours on deck with very little to do. I continued my visits and discussions with Pané and we each gained more respect and fondness for each other… and trust.
Looking for something solid to base my thoughts and conjectures on, I asked him one fine afternoon to expand on our previous discussion concerning the Taino, their place in God’s creation, and what exactly was the Church going to do to protect them, “…if one of their Third Order Franciscan Brothers, Colón, was going to set them about killing each other!” As the truth of my own words hit me, I became aware of how strongly the planning sessions these last few days passed had affected me. I hoped that my anger and question did not clearly reach Colón in his cabin directly below my feet.
He began pacing, just three slow steps back and forth, gathering his thoughts I supposed but to a point to where I was about to throw him overboard in my frustration…
“When I was a young man,” began Pane”, I assumed that all religious questions had clear concise answers, not open to debate, and clearly spelled out in the teachings of the bible.” Pané spoke with obvious difficulty and regret. “How could there be any question of the value of each human being, just using the words and examples of Our Lord Jesus Christ? How could politics have any bearing on this?” he asked, the breeze ruffling his sparse greying hair.
I mentally prepared myself for a discourse that had obviously been forming in his mind over the past week.
“I had also believed that when there was a change of Pontiffs, God would communicate his wishes with the Cardinals who would be fasting, praying, agonizing over such a momentous decision and, through his guidance elect God’s choice. But in this last century we have had two and even three Popes simultaneously leading the church, each with their own faction supporting them. We’ve had the center of the church migrate to Avignon in France then return to Rome. We’ve had riots in Rome, hoping to force the election of a Roman Pontiff over a foreigner.” He was warming to the topic, however, his voice grew more forceful yet quieter somehow.
He spoke to me of how half of the Cardinals are now descendants of previous Cardinals or Popes, most of the balance consisting of those appointed by political rulers and kings, often members of their household. The last few are of the nobility of Italy. “To be elected Pope takes a master politician, one who can promise prominent and profitable positions to certain key Cardinals, and hint at favorable rulings or interpretations of scripture to convince rulers of countries to push their own Cardinals to vote the ‘correct’ way.” He said with distaste and disgust. “I am afraid God’s will is left out of the equation at this time.”
“It is essential to keep in mind”, he underscored, “this is not the ‘Church’ being evil, rather evil men, greedy for power or wealth using the Holy Church to further their own desires.”
“I suppose we should be grateful that our own Signore Borgio of Valencia, with the help of the Spanish Monarchs is now the newest leader of the Church. The Catholic Monarchs have pledged large financial and military support for the protection of the Papal States to secure that position for him.” He continued.
“In return Borgio, now known as Pope Alexander VI, has issued a Papal Bull giving Spain exclusive ownership, the exclusive right to explore and settle all the new western lands discovered by Colón to Spain.“ He ended.
I was not sure where Pané was going with all this, but it was certainly disturbing to hear that the representative of Christ here on earth was an appointee of the King and Queen of Spain. Slowly Pané was painting a picture of scheming and back door deals to secure the position of ‘Pope’ rather than the fasting, praying for guidance from God and the very sanctity of the Conclave held to elect a new Pope that I had imagined. Perhaps Colón was not alone in his ‘abajo de aqua’ secret dealings.
“So…back to your question of how the Church views the Indios of this land we are traveling to…” Pané continued on after allowing me several minutes to digest his revelations of Papal politics to me. The more he spoke the more heated he became, and several times his voice now began to raise to a disturbing level and he would halt in mid-sentence, take a deep breath, and modulate his voice to a more confidential tone. I could sense that he somewhat regretted heading down this path with me, but could not leave me dangling. I also sensed some relief as he unburdened himself, finally feeling comfortable enough with someone to put his own doubts and misgivings into words.
“What does all this mean you may ask?” by this bringing his soliloquy back to a conversation. “Since Isabella is championing the Indios, Pope Alexander is doing the same. The Indios, these children of God are considered subjects of Spain and children of the church. My mission is to teach them, convert them, and bring them into the fold. In fairness to Pope Alexander, he is also providing a refuge for the Spanish Jews and Moors who are now beginning to be persecuted in Spain. Oddly enough the Monarchs complain that the Pope interferes with their efforts to convert the Jews and Moors. He has already shown a propensity to treat all races and creeds with Christian love, just as he did when Archbishop of Valencia. Not surprisingly, the Popes enemies infer that it is because the Pope is in fact, a Jew…, astonishing!”
“I hope and pray that this equality of all men espoused by His Holiness marks a new beginning for the church, getting back to concern for people’s souls and well-being, and away from the hunger for land, power, politics and the temporal, the unholy digression that has marked the last century or more of church leadership.” finished Pané.
Unfortunately, as often happened, our discussion was interrupted by the lieutenants. But this was a good point to wrap his dialog up. Besides, their mindless jocularity would give my thinking mind a rest.
Chapter 25) Colón, Franco, Stars
There is nothing to compare to the stars on a clear, moonless night in the center of a cold dark ocean. There seemed to be twice as many of them, and so close you might reach up and snatch a few, so bright they cast a shadow. Combined with the glow of their phosphorescent wake trailing the ship it made for an awesome spectacle.
Each ship appeared as a dark backlit shadow on the edge of the world, with its ghostly tail stretching to the horizon behind. Although each had a stern lantern, it was hard to distinguish from the stars reflected in the gently rolling sea. From a distant ship came the sounds of a guitara and a type of bagpipe playing a sad Basque melody.
Once again a following breeze and the ocean current gave the sense of stillness, even though we were traveling at three or four knots. The sails were filled, even though on deck it was almost still. Only the comfortable creaking of the ships beams and masts accompanied the distant music. Very peaceful.
Colón himself came on deck. After the usual deferential salutation on my part, and somewhat condescending reply by Colón, he acknowledged the beauty of the night sky and it’s reflection on the flat sea. We soon fell into a discussion of the stars, as used for navigation, Colón was always anxious to show his prodigious nautical acumen, even to an underlying such as myself.
“If you follow from Polaris at the point of Ursa Minor, and follow it through Merak and Dubhe, the two end stars of the dipper in Ursa Major, and note where it points when your watch begins, and then envision a point ninety degrees to the right, you have created a six hour clock. A four hour watch is two thirds of that, or sixty degrees.
My father had explained all this to me when I was but eight, but I did not bother to interrupt him. I instead used these opportunities to further improve our relationship. I might ask him about his youth or of his early travels as a trader for the Genoese in the Mediterranean. For all his faults he enjoyed some amazing adventures and had seen far more of the world than most.
With the Basque, Colón had travelled to Bristol, as well as London, England, Ireland and even Iceland in the far north. With the Portuguese he had travelled along the west coast of Africa and the Portuguese’s trading centers.
As with most people, Colón enjoyed speaking of himself. As he had led a fascinating life, I quite enjoyed his stories, and so, was an attentive listener, which everyone appreciates. I had a sense that he somehow also wanted my esteem, that it helped relieve a deep insecurity. This was not an informed analysis, just a feeling.
This apparent need for approval humanized Colón somewhat in my eyes. He was just a man after all.
Interestingly, Colón also had a strong spiritual belief in his own destiny and place in history. I was not familiar enough with the particular scriptures to which he might refer, to follow his logic, but his belief was quite evident.
In his defense and as Pané had pointed out to me, there was no clear leadership or “Holy Writ” by the church on the question of slavery or conquest; in fact, many of the wealthy leaders in the church, including Bishops, Archbishops and even recent Popes employed both household and galley slaves. I had no scripture to quote to support my position, in fact many biblical greats, including Abraham, David and Solomon, had both slaves and concubines.
Although I had never spoke directly to Colón of my objections to slavery, he was astute enough to sense it from my reactions or the distaste I displayed any time the subject came up- reactions I had not bothered to mask. Between my own distaste, and that of Pané, Colón, surprisingly, would bring the topic up for discussion with me at times, attempting to justify his intentions to himself I believe.
Chapter 23) Back with Lliago
Even as Franco and Pané discussed the Taino aboard the Mariagallante; Lliago was learning how to live with them back on the island of Hispaniola.
There has been no sign of Captain Mendoza. He left Navidad, the tiny Arì settlement in the midst of thousands of Taino, a full month ago. No message of success or failure had reached Lliago.
“I probably should organize a party to go find him, but I am sure his absence has doubled our chance of survival,” Lliago reasoned. “Risking more lives, and weakening our position here, hoping to discover what happened to someone we are far better off without…? That would not be wise leadership,” he thought. Interestingly, none of his fellow Ari, nor the Taino ever brought up the three explorers. Their guides had long since returned, mentioning that Mendoza had travelled east, out of the Cacicazgos of Guacanagari, to explore further.
Although the initial encounter between these two groups had been tense, almost catastrophic, there now was a friendly, helpful existence between the two parties. Mendoza’s absence certainly was beneficial.
There was still an undertone of distrust on the part of the Taino. After all, Colón had basically kidnapped thirty of their family members. Lliago, Alonso and Mateo had been successful in mending much of the damage done by Colón, but they all three knew they had a long way to go.
They were on their way to Cacique Guacanagari’s lodge now, to join him for the evening meal.
The sun was setting over the curve of the bay off to the left. The tall palms were backlit by an astonishing array of continuously changing colors, from deep burnt orange at the horizon on through to the pinks and violets climbing up the sky. Venus was just making her appearance.
The usually clear water of the bay had taken on a darker reflection of the sky above. “The wine dark sea Homer must have been referring to two thousand years ago,” thought Lliago.
Lliago and Mateo had taken to the Taino habit of bare feet, while Padre Alonzo still insisted on heavy boots. The warm sand felt good between the toes as Lliago sank into the softer sand away from the water line. He slowed, allowing his companions ahead a step. Walking across behind his two companions to the water’s edge where the sand was firmer, he caught them up.
“What horrible sin did you commit that you continue to punish yourself, with these wooden anchors on your feet,” asked Mateo of Alonzo. “Your penance has gone on long enough...and the stench of your feet punishes us all,” he added.
”I prefer to remain civilized.” returned Alonzo. “It helps maintain my moral superiority over the rest of you heathens.” He added gruffly.
They strolled along without further comment for a while, each lost in their own thoughts. The slow murmur of the waves, barely noticeable at high-tide added a soft background accompaniment to the swish of dry sand beneath Father Alonzo’s boots.
“Here is a moral dilemma for you oh wise one”, started Lliago. “How can we continue to insist to Guacanagari that things will be different when Colón returns?”
“Not one more Taino will be taken,” Guacanagari assured Lliago just the day before. “You must help me to convince Colón of this, at the peril of the Admiral and all his men.” Lliago could do nothing but agree to this, although he knew he would be powerless to stop Colón.
Colón’s quest to reach the trading capitals in China and Japan had obviously failed. Lliago knew however, that with the small amount of gold Colón was carrying home, as well as the captives, and considering the Admiral’s ability to convince, Colón was sure to return with three times the ships and four or five hundred men at least.
How could even these many thousands of warriors, with only their clubs and knives, possibly resist the guns and canon of the European invaders, even with their superior numbers?
Lliago imagined the proud Taino warriors, enshackled in the hull of a trading scowl. These gentle women and girls brutalized by the fierce ungodly sailors of Hispania. That brutality would be practiced even by his own small crew if not for his barely sufficient control over them. (Surprisingly, Juan Grande had become an ally there.) The disease, the tearing apart of families, the uprooting to foreign lands as slaves… this was all too much to bear.
He thought of his own strong, proud and yet gentle Allemanda. He considered the caring, just, noble and fatherly strength of her father, Guacanagari, to his people. The happy, healthy, squealing children… how could he, Lliago, stand by and let this happen?
Even as Juan Grande came over to a protective attitude towards the Taino, and Lliago began to feel the shift of many of the remaining sailors to his point of view, he knew all of his logic, rhetoric, and protestations would be no match for the greedy, lecherous hoard that would come from Hispania within the year.
Although a foot shorter and half the weight of Juan Grande, Bisma, the “mistress” of Juan Grande here on Hispaniola, had completely conquered Juan and ruled his life by none-to-subtle glances and scowls. To see this tiny woman smack the huge man on his ear and watch him cringe was astonishing. If anything, Juan was now the brutalized party.
He had become the champion of the Taino in less than a month and had replaced Guacanagari as the one most feared by those who would harm an islander. But even should all remaining sailors be brought to this way of thinking, the plight of the Taino still seemed hopeless.
“There seems nothing we can do to help these poor creatures,” Lliago stated flatly. “We will be forced to witness the same brutality that has befallen the African at the hands of the Portuguese and Arab. The Ari will be as relentless as the waves.
The three walked on in silence for several minutes, again lost in their dark thoughts.
“Are you sure,” Alonso began…”there is nothing we can do?
It was here the seed of an idea began to take shape to attempt to keep history from repeating itself, even as Colón landed in the Canaries with the powerful force they would be facing.
Chapter 27) - Back to Franco, at the Canary Islands
“Señor De Las Casas, Please deliver these to the Port Captain with my best wishes,” barked Colón to me as I entered his cabin. I was ‘Franco’ in conversation, but elevated to my father’s name on official business. “Take a few hours to look around while awaiting his response,” added the admiral, in a friendlier tone while handing me his correspondence. “It will be many days before you touch land again.”
We landed in the Canary Islands, the Islands of the Dogs, within a week. We began the process of taking on water, more dried and fresh fish and making those repairs necessary at Las Palmas on Grande Canary, a huge undertaking for seventeen vessels.
Although fighting was still going on at Tenerife, an island just a handful of leagues to the West, Grande Canary stood firmly in the hands of Hispania.
Island by island the natives were being subjugated. These lands, maybe 100 miles off the coast of Africa, had a population of light skinned, blonde haired and blue eyed giants, some over six feet in height! Their origin was unknown, with guesses ranging from their being one of the Twelve Tribes of Israel to being the descendants of the remnant population of destroyed Atlantis.
They used no metal, all their implements, tools and weapons being of ingeniously crafted bone, wood and stone. Their success in repelling the Arab, the Portuguese and the Hispanics for the last several centuries was legendary.
Only by taking advantage of the inner tribal conflicts, supporting one Chieftain against another, by playing on the pride of a leader by inviting him to parlay then capturing or killing them, or by cutting off food supply, were the Hispanics able to conquer these warriors.
The giant, blonde haired, blue eyed “Guanche” natives were still in evidence, but only as servants or slaves, subjugated by the Spanish.
Isabella and Ferdinand had only united the two kingdoms of Castile and Aragon twenty five years earlier and, between ending the Moorish occupation of southern Spain, the Reconquista, and keeping their Nobles in line, they had had no time or interest in the CanAries until recently. The nobles, the rich landowners of Spain with their small fiefdoms, had enjoyed nearly unchecked freedom in the conquest of the islands, and the plunder of its resources, both natural and human.
A group of us were being rowed across the bay to the town quay. I had some messages to deliver for Admiral Colón. As we passed by a large Arab Corsair with its banks of oars, I had my first introduction to the cruelty and misery that is slavery. To see these recent captives, their obvious crushed pride and spirit, chained in filth and squalor, on their way to be sold in the markets of Portugal or Morocco, or as far away as India, was truly heartbreaking. I stared into the oily water of the bay.
We had discussed this at length in my father’s salon back in Jerez. These “Arab” traders, out of Algiers, Tripoli and even Constantinople, were raiders of the worst kind. Capturing the vessels of Spain, France, Italy and, occasionally raiding further north in the Atlantic, they would appropriate the cargo of the ships, and then transport the crew or passengers back to their home base to be ransomed or sold into slavery.
Those that were relegated to the galleys would generally be chained on board for six months at a time then be imprisoned in the bagnios, Arab prisons with some of the worst of conditions, until put onto another boat. Galley slaves of the Ottomans instead would serve for tens of years. Most slaves ended up in the Ottoman Empire, in Persia or as far away as India. The need for manual labor for the great grain producing areas of the Nile, the Fertile Crescent and the Indus seemed insatiable. The desire for concubines, house-boys and servants created an equally profitable market.
And now the Spanish Nobles who had control of the Canaries were selling captives directly to these devils. What would keep Admiral Colón from doing the same with the islanders of Hispaniola? As I gazed on this heartbreaking sight, slavery became real, slavery now had a face.
While going about my business in Las Palmas, a part of me thought of the remaining Taino, kept as little better than livestock for their return to their home. I thought of those that had remained at Isabella’s court and finally, the fifteen that had died since being taken from their homes by disease or simple hopelessness
I pictured with close to despair, the very young Guanche girls with whom the two Lieutenants were drinking even now. I imagined the girl’s parents, and the homes they had been ripped from. Young, yet already worn far beyond their years, what hopelessness must these children feel looking towards their future? The meaning of what a “visit to the girls” entailed, the debasement and exploitation of these young girls, was brutally and shockingly brought home to me. We should be protecting them! The men of these families were either off fighting other Guanche, or had already been shipped off to the Arab slave markets. With no-one to protect them or provide for them, what choice, what future do they have?
How was it possible that humans, so called Christians, could do this to another human? My now seventeen years of sheltered, protected life had not prepared me for this, and I am ashamed to admit I was completely undone.
Suddenly all the secret meetings of Colón, the clearly evil nature and intentions of some of the men he had taken on as investors, the empty livestock pens to be used for cargo, it all added up to one thing. I was not part of a holy mission to bring the greatness of our society to Hispaniola. The “Admiral of The Ocean Sea”’ was merely a slave trader, and he had duped the Catholic Monarchs into backing his truly evil scheme.
Although the King and Queen clearly forbade slavery, if Colón was to sell his unholy cargo here in Canary, or perhaps in the Portuguese Azores or Madeira on the return voyage, the Monarchs would be none the wiser.
Chapter 28) Franco, Trapped in his Destiny
I was trapped.
Standing at the taffrail, directly above Colón’s cabin at the Stern of the ship, I contemplated our wake, stretching as far as the eye could see, back towards Grande Canary and my innocence. My transformation had been instantaneous. One moment I was a boy vaguely disturbed by the idea of conquest and slavery, the next a human who abhorred both with a crushing desperation.
I had been returning towards the landing back in Canary, reflecting on all I had seen. I heard a laugh from one of the young girls, now sitting on the lap of one of the lieutenants in the wine shop overlooking the harbor. As I looked on she was in the act of turning her face away from the officer who was trying to kiss her, when her eyes beheld one of the galleys filled with defeated Guanche headed out to sea.
The look of utter despair and sadness, the desperation that came into her eyes would haunt me forever. Her family destroyed, her proud men enslaved and her life of squalor and worse than slavery stretching ahead, with no hope of deliverance. The loathing I now held for Colón, the Monarchs, The Church and most especially, for myself for allowing this to happen, was overwhelming.
At sea again I looked back at the several other vessels that were in view, cleanly slicing through the amazingly calm sea. Although there were 102 men on board the flagship, as often as not, I would have this area to myself. The young Lieutenants were aware that I had no interest in their company, which seemed to affect them not at all. The rear deck was reserved for the officers and officials, and would be cleared completely if Admiral Colón chose to walk there. Even though I was not an officer, both my own and Padre’s presence was never remarked upon, I suppose because of our assumed closeness to Colón and need to respond quickly if summoned.
The water was an amazingly deep blue and clean looking, so different from the muddy grey murk we had encountered up until now. The sailors had remarked on its unusual color, and thought the depth of the water and continued calmness of the sea were the cause.
In the shade of the large papahigo or mainsail, a gigantic rectangle of cloth on the main (Mizzen) mast, the ship sailing along with the breeze created a feel of calm freshness. I had always thought that the sails all remained perpendicular to the mast and ship, the rudder providing direction. Soon, of course, I learned that ropes attached to the cross beam from which the sail hung, as well as ropes to that sail’s lower corners would be pulled in on one side of the ship while let out on the other to bring the sail to most advantage, easy to do when calm, but nightmArish in a gale.
The afternoon sun in the southwest backlit the white sail with its emblazoned Cross. This once peaceful symbol of Christ’s sacrifice for us now seemed a bludgeon set to pummel the Taino.
But anger, loathing, indignation can only be focused on for so long, especially in the young. The perfect temperature, the soft sigh of the breeze, and my full belly from a pleasant dinner, conspired to lull me into a peaceful afternoon nap. I was sitting, my back to the rear mast, with my coat behind me watching the ships behind when I nodded off.
I had been dozing for about twenty minutes, when the creak of a complaining stair brought me awake with a start. Glancing around, I saw the form of Padre Panés huge posterior in an awkward retreat down from the upper deck where I sat.
“Padre, excuse me, please come join me,” I stammered out, getting to my feet, shaking the sleep from my head.
The Padre had become my confessor of sorts. Nothing official, we simply conversed of life, thoughts, feelings and fears, with some advice thrown in. Certainly not the same, but he had come to partially fill the void left by my father back in Jerez.
“Pardon me Franco, I did not mean to disturb your rest,” said Pané. I half believed him, although days earlier I had caught him purposefully coughing to awaken me. Miraculously, his cough left him once I was fully awake, I suspect he enjoyed our afternoon talks as well as I.
He waddled back up and we made our way to the taffrail.
“It is telling that you are constantly looking backwards at the past, rather than at the bow facing your future,” stated Padre. Somehow he had managed to get out of breath just coming up the five steps to this deck. Although only 40 years old, Padre Pané seemed to inhabit a much older body. I don’t know if he could even bend his knees, he took steps in an awkward, painful looking waddle.
I felt this was a much deeper observation, or perhaps, question than it sounded on the surface, and wanted to weigh my words carefully.
“If this could only continue on forever, with the pestilence that we are, never reaching Hispaniola, I would be perfectly happy”, I said.
I reflected on my current situation. I could not have simply abandoned the voyage and Colón without risking dishonor for my family and myself, as tempting as that had been. Even if I had, how would I have returned to Jerez and my family? And shouldn’t I instead be doing something to change the course of doom we were embarked on?
To go on, to bear helping Colón seemed impossible as well. A question suddenly occurred to me. ” How is it you are able to participate in this voyage of conquest and enslavement?” I asked, not a small amount of resentment and condemnation in my voice, although the question started with no intention of wounding him.
Fortunately, my time with Colón was limited to several hours each morning to take down a few notes on our progress across the Atlantic, as well as comments on the various captains and their boats and crews performance. I could handle this short time with the fiend, then retreat to my post at the rear of the ship with an abundance of time to visit with Pané and to keep an eye on the trailing vessels. I petulantly kicked a small present from one of the ducks off the back of the deck, a stray breeze sending a cool mist by my face. The main sail let out a small snap as it loosened then regained its tension for that brief moment.
With seventeen ships we were strung out over ten to as much as twenty miles of ocean, the last ships were often out of sight over the horizon. From my seat on the deck the horizon was about twelve miles distant, a constant, aggravating reminder of Colón’s folly concerning the circumference of the earth. Math does not lie! Like a gigantic inchworm, we would stretch out full length, then contract again until all were in sight, slowly then to stretch out again.
I glanced at Pané, expecting a hurt or angry continence, but was surprised to see his usual, almost mocking smile and a glint in his eye. “Let us imagine things are as desperate as you say, and that Colón subdues the islands and enslaves every Taino. Can I do more to help the Taino as a hermit hiding in a cave back in Castile? Or perhaps, if I am able to comfort some of these people in their distress, help a few when they are ill, improve their conditions on the ships headed back to Europe, bring one or two to Christ? Perhaps even counseling one ship’s scribe might be better than sitting back in the comfort of a friary?” he proposed. “Some of us can change the course of history; others can only pick up the pieces.”
Splendid, now I could add the guilt of insulting this kind, thoughtful priest to my list of miseries…
I noticed the small, sleek and fast tender employed to run between the boats, headed towards the Niña. In rough weather the sails and masts of the tender could be brought down and it would bob behind the Mariagallante. We would get word of a leak sprung in a ship, and steps that had been taken to address the problem. Or perhaps hear of an insubordination and resulting punishment on another, this fast messenger carrying news and orders throughout our little fleet.
Each ship was its own floating kingdom, with the captain of that ship, KING. Each was self-sufficient to a large extent, with its own shipwright, woodworker purser and priest. But ultimately, they would have to report their actions to the Admiral.
It was soon clear that disease had once again broken out on the ill-fated Niña and numerous bodies had gone over her sides. It was rumored that the tender had transferred two of the Taino to our ship sometime during the night. There was much grumbling and furtive glances among the crew, who were obviously distressed at having these disease carriers on board. All the crew avoided the forward cabin where I assumed the new guests were now housed.
Day after day the fall weather remained perfect. Following the currents away from Grand Canary, and enjoying following breezes again, we couldn’t help but encounter the same islands of Colón’s first voyage. This pleasant cruise would certainly not last forever, in fact, the voyage’s end, and the results were rapidly approaching.
Although we could only estimate our travel distance west by keeping track of our speed from noon to noon, we could tell, with fair precision, where we stood north and south. Once we hit the latitude of Hispaniola, as recorded by Colón’s first voyage, we would head as directly west as possible and hit the Island. We were within a week of landfall.
My mind went back to an earlier, friendlier time with Colón, he explaining how we could tell, more or less, our position on the globe.
An astrolabe, a ridiculously complicated device that could give you locations of stars, planets and moons with incredible precision, could also be used to measure the height of the sun at its highest point, mid-day. By knowing the height or angle, along with the date, we knew where we sat north and south on the earth. As an example, coming down from London, if the Sun was 45 degrees, or halfway up the sky, you would know you were about 130 miles north of Bilbao, on the Bay of Biscay. Navidad sat at 19 degrees north of the equator, Grand Canary at about 28. Not coincidentally, the wind and currents were carrying us in a southwest direction.
Father Pané remained patient and silent. He knew my pattern, and that I would respond when I had felt the question or problem sufficiently thought through.
Chapter 29) Pané and Franco Conspire
It had been easy, sitting back in my father’s salon, to imagine being the hero of every story. If I came across a princess in distress I, of course, would defend her with my sword and vanquish any enemy. If I came across Arab pirates who had kidnapped Christians and enslaved them on their galley, I would easily set them free and bring the pirates to justice.
Big as I was, being around hundreds of men who not only had no problem with fellow humans being sold into slavery, but who hoped to profit from it themselves, men who could easily destroy me, knife me and send me overboard with no pang of conscious, created a different set of circumstances than I had imagined as a youth.
Daily, there were brutal fights among the sailors, where getting off with an ear missing or an arm laid open by the razor sharp knives that every sailor carried was considered good fortune. Mortal wounds were just as frequent. Only the greater viciousness of the officers kept the sailors in check.
A flogging of twenty-four lashes, well laid by the captain of the guard, would rip a man’s back to a bloody pulp, with lacerations so deep I did not know how they survived. Cutting rations was, surprisingly, equally effective. It was a hard, tough and brutal world I had stepped into and I was more than a little intimidated by it.
As we neared our destination, the idea that one innocent campesino, such as myself, could somehow stop the horror that would soon befall the unsuspecting natives of Hispaniola at the hands of these devils, seemed… foolish…unrealistic.
How could I put these thoughts into words that would be understood by the spiritual leader, without betraying my disloyalty, my desire to stop Colón at any cost?
“I only see disaster and misery when I look to the future” I said, sounding entirely too pessimistic even in my own ears.
“I apologize for my moroseness Padre, it is unlike me,” I said quickly with a self-deprecating laugh. “It is just that I see no answer, no way forward.”
“These men about to be let loose on the Indios are little better than the most savage of animals.” I went on. “Colón’s description of the kind, friendly natives sounds like a flock of sheep headed to slaughter. We both agree that, without some unbelievable control of these sailors, this will be devastating to the Taino. In addition to this brutality, Colón and his captains will exploit the Taino in every conceivable way.. The people will be enslaved, forced to work in mines, farm the fields for their Spanish Masters or, worse yet, be shipped off to foreign lands and sold to others.”
After a short reflection, I went on, “The huge, proud and ferocious warriors of the Canary were no match for these brutes. What chance for the Taino, what chance of averting this calamity?”
I had been pacing, but I now joined Pané at the rail, watching a few wisps of feathery cloud dissipate as quickly as they formed. I never tired of the line of sail formed by the following ships that now floated on an almost impossibly blue sea, with an equally blue sky above making the exact horizon now hard to distinguish… a truly picturesque vista.
I laughed to myself, recalling last night’s dream, where I had sent the anchor of each ship through its hull, sending the ships and crew to the bottom, I escaping in the pinnace. Do I need to mention the fair maiden I had rescued was on the pinnace with me?
With the ship traveling nearly at the speed of the following breeze, and the calm created at the rear of the ship, we were in an eerily silent bubble. Only a very loud bellow of an officer shouting a command, or the guffaws of the sailors were occasionally noticeable.
“When the Israelites faced the vastly superior force of Philistines in their fight for the land of Judah,” Pané began, bringing me back from my reverie,”King Saul faced a hopeless situation.If the Israelites were to lose this fight they would become subject to the King of Philistia, trading the yoke of Egypt they had recently fled for this new one.” he continued.
Pané let this statement hang in the air, as if it was obviously the only answer necessary to the coming dilemma.
I am afraid I was quite irritated with Pané by this point. My soul ached as I searched for an answer, and here this genius teacher was reciting a child’s bible lesson to me. As I fumed and fretted, I could not help but remember the story Pané had begun.
The Israelite position was hopeless, the vastly superior Philistine army poised to destroy them. For whatever reason however, the Philistines seemed unwilling to simply crush them. Perhaps they did not want to weaken their own army with the losses that surely would result from the battle, even with their assured victory. Perhaps they wanted to keep the soon to be enslaved Israelites healthy.
Instead they sent the giant warrior, Goliath, to challenge any Israelite champion to mortal combat to decide the issue. That story of the hopeless battle that would instead be decided by equally hopeless single combat did not seem helpful to me in our current situation.
But slowly the wisdom started to seep into my apparently thick skull. I did not have to conquer the 1,200 brutish sailors, only one brutish Admiral.
I laughed to myself, recalling snatches of last night’s dream, where I had sent the anchor of each ship through its hull, sinking the ships and their crews to the bottom of the sea, I escaping in the pinnace. Of course, the dream included a fair maiden on the pinnace that appeared from somewhere.
I looked up at Pané, who was staring at me intently. I said, “The only weapons we have are your spiritual leadership and my paltry powers of persuasion. These against the stupendous greed, and thirst for power of Colón, and all the promises he has made to the investors and captains involved in this scheme.” I was awed, by the prospect, especially as I had no stones or a slingshot to hand.
“Easier than killing twelve-hundred sailors I suppose,” I said with a nervous laugh.
Chapter 30) Franco lays out the Problem
The challenge I faced was to show Colón a way to wealth and power that included working with the Taino. Rather than just plundering whatever wealth they possessed and selling them off as slaves, I had to show him a way to reach even greater renown, power and wealth by following the Catholic Monarch’s desire to convert these Indios into loyal subjects.
The hunger for gold would push Colón and his cronies to employing slave labor to work the mines. It would be easy to hide this transgression from the Monarch’s wishes, as the mines would be thousands of miles away. Could Colón be convinced that a cooperative arrangement with the Indios might be more beneficial for both sides?
What could I propose as an attractive option, what would convince the master merchant Colón to abandon his slavery scheme?
Perhaps the trees on the upper slopes of the island could be harvested and sold to the shipyards that seemed to be prospering, especially as the belief in Colón’s western route to the Orient gained strength.
Sailing vessels had been being built on the Iberian Peninsula at least since the time of the Phoenicians nearly two thousand years ago. Most of the forests had been depleted centuries before, and ship builders were now importing wood from as far away as Dalmatia or even the Caucuses, paying exorbitant prices. Those trees may be a source of wealth.
A second might be the spices of the Orient that Colón still claimed were only a few days beyond Hispaniola. Although, from my tutelage in my father’s home, I knew it to be at least three to four times as far as the distance to Hispaniola, perhaps by continuing west, a viable route to the Orient and its wealth could be established. With a base in Hispaniola to take on water and foodstuffs, a two or three month voyage further west would not be impossible.
Jaquez Coeur, a hero of the trader/ merchant class, and certainly of Colón, had risen from a sailor on a trading vessel, to a wealthy merchant, to French nobleman and finally, advisor to the King. His wealth was made on the spices of the Far East, and I would push this idea on Colón, over the ease of the slave trade. Coeur had in fact, died in Chios, where Colón had done much of his early trading.
Perhaps, if Colón were being truthful in his description of the soil, water and climate of Hispaniola, an abundance of produce might go a ways towards replacing the imagined gains of mining operations.
Unfortunately, when there was a bad harvest in Hispania, the Monarchs had no mechanism or funds to import food. The people simply went hungry. Although there was money in the salted cod, caught in the North Atlantic and imported by the Basques to Europe, would it be the same with the fish that could be pulled from the bountiful sea around Hispaniola? The majority of the populace of Iberia simply had no money to buy any foodstuffs that they could not produce themselves. Although this was beginning to change as the Monarch’s new policies began to bring wealth into the country, this would be a slow process.
An obvious exception was sugar.
As valuable as any Asian spice, Isabella and Ferdinand, with their re-conquest of Andalusia and Ferdinand’s control of Naples, Sicily and the Canary Islands, controlled all European production of sugar with the exception of Portuguese Madeira, and some Venetian holdings in Palestine and Cyprus. Northern Europe had developed an insatiable need for this spice in this last century, with fortunes being made in its production and trade.
And we had thousands of cane plants on board at this moment. With its heat and moisture, Hispaniola would be as productive as India, where cane had originated. If the current ruler of the island was like every other ruler Franco had ever heard of, he could be persuaded into putting his reportedly huge and idle workforce into the production of sugar and make both himself and his Spanish partners exceedingly wealthy and powerful.
And rather than a one-time gain from the sale of an unwilling slave, Colón could be shown, in actual reals and pesos, the value of keeping the workforce intact on the island. This idea held genuine and provable promise, and I was suddenly excited to get this proposal down on paper.
I believed this, along with Padre Panés spiritual coaxing, might just garner the results we desired. Could I put a convincing plan together before we reached Hispaniola?
Chapter 31) Back to Lliago, Hispaniola, Going Native
As the Mariagallante with Colón and Franco clove the waters of the Atlantic headed towards him, Lliago contemplated the current situation on Hispaniola.
Mendoza, Salvador and Astilla still had not returned. At nearly ten weeks gone, Lliago and his men assumed they were not returning. Perhaps they had been killed by the Carib who sometimes raided on Hispaniola.
With the timbers from the Santa Maria, Lliago and his men had built a small stockade on a rocky spit of land along the east side of the bay. With the range of the four, seven pound cannon, they could hit any target within the bay and, perhaps, Three hundred yards out to sea accurately.
In addition, they had the two brass cannons that fired a one inch ball, four Espingarda hand held long guns, as well as four Espingarda pistols. They had been left with four barrels of gunpowder, and had salvaged forty three, seven pound. shot, over one hundred, one-inch balls and several hundreds of half-inch lead balls for the long guns and pistols.
Lliago had made Juan Grande his Lieutenant. Juan Espinosa, who had been a worry to Lliago, appeared quite attached to the sister of Bizma, Juan Grande’s island wife. The way things now stood, there should be no more trouble between the remaining nineteen Spaniards and their Taino hosts. Juan Grande had even started construction of his new family’s home and farm, with Guacanagari’s blessing, just to the east of the bay.
Runners had come from another tribe of Taino, the Cotui’, who lived far to the east in the Cacicazgos of Marién that morning. They spoke of a large raiding party of the Caribe, cannibals from some of the islands to the east and south of Kiskeya. “Hundreds of Taino have been taken.” Cuan had told Lliago. “ Caunato’, Cacique of the Cotui’, asks that we unite to stop this menace.”
The Caribe would paddle their gigantic trading canoes along the coast, raiding as they went. It was highly probable they would soon be raiding in Guacanagari’s Cacicazgos.
“These Caribe will make slaves of the Taino women after killing their men, and will keep their children in cages, fattening them up to eat later,” explained Guacanagari’s oldest son Cuan. “Will you stand with us and help defend against these animals?”
They sat in the shade of Guacanagari’s home, the large square structure that housed close to fifty members of Guacanagari’s family. Ten to twelve other similar structures surrounded the village square and were inhabited by what the Hispanic would describe as ‘Nobility’. From there, the structures and their families radiated out in a descending hierarchy of importance. With the shade and the breeze off the bay, as well as the beautiful vista, Guacanagari had the best spot on Hispaniola.
The first few islands the ships of Colón had encountered were rife with these cannibalistic fiends, Colón’s men having had several encounters with them. Working with the Taino for their mutual protection was something Lliago could agree to whole-heartedly, along with all his men who rather enjoyed a good fight.
“Your warriors are fierce,” stated Lliago, a question in this statement. “With your large numbers and strength, how is it you are unable to fight these villains off, or even defeat them once and for all?”
Cuan was stunned by Lliago’s question, and began to come angrily to his feet, Allemanda with a hand on his shoulder held him back by her strength of character alone. Lliago saw that he had wounded his friend’s pride, the young man who might one day rule the Taino.
Lliago quickly explained that he only wanted to understand by what tricks these devils were able to capture members of the Great Taino. He reminded Cuan of the fear that his own Ari Basque had felt when surrounded by the Taino warriors when they had arrived three months before.
Cuan, who had become close to Lliago and Mateo, saw that Lliago was indeed trying to understand how best to help, and sat back down, a little chagrined at his own reaction. Although Allemanda had not said a word, Lliago was once again reminded of the strong position all Taino women enjoyed in this society.
“I am sorry Lliago, for my anger,” began Cuan…”Thinking of my family being at the hands of the Caribe is so unnerving, I forget myself.”
“Please do not give it another thought,” returned Lliago. “Let us come up with a strategy to stop them.”
Chapter 31) Alonzo’s solution
“As you know,” said Cuan, “we are spread out in smaller family groups throughout the area. Clearly if all our warriors were gathered, we could drive off any force. The Caribe, however, attack these individual families in stealth, often murdering the men, and capturing the women and children and are off in their canoes before we can mount a response.”
This was beyond the life experience of both Lliago and Mateo, so they all sat in silence for a minute or two.
Although back home, they sometimes went hungry, at that period it was relatively stable and safe in the various provinces, especially since Aragon and Castile had united under Isabella and Ferdinand.
“Back in our land,” began Father Alonzo, “in years past, there were many marauding bands that would go into an unprotected area and do the same. They would not eat the citizens of course, but would carry off all the food, belongings and, in some cases, the women and girls of a community in the same manner. The farmers would be out in the fields, or tending their herds. Even if they were close to home, what could one man do against a mounted group of fighters? Often they would be renegade soldiers or mercenaries back from the Crusades, used to taking whatever their strength would allow.”
“So the farmers began to congregate around a fortified larger hacienda. Someone would always be on the lookout, and at the first sign of trouble the church bell would ring out. The farmers, their families, and in many cases their animals would run to the safety of the town.” explained Alonzo.
“These rogue bands were interested in easy conquest and plunder and were used to very little or ineffective resistance. Still only armed with farming implements, but behind walls and united into a determined force, very few marauders would press the attack.” he explained. “Perhaps a modified idea could be implemented here?” he finished.
Lliago had been thinking this whole time, and, incorporating the ideas of Alonzo, and some of what he’d learned of feudal lords of centuries past, he put forth the following plan…
“What is needed is a group of warriors always freed from labor to be both on the lookout and ready to respond at a moment’s notice to attack. The warriors could rotate so that their gardens and the fishing would not get neglected. Our men would comprise part of this contingent.” he began.
“Spaced out, within the sound of the conch shell, will be lookouts, ever vigilant for these invaders. By certain notes or signals we can be called to the area in danger and quickly arrive to thwart the attack.” he added.
“We will want to do some training together so that we will all know what to do in case of need,” finished Lliago.
“What weapons are used by the Caribe, and how many are in their raiding parties?” asked Mateo.
“Like us, they travel by canoe that can hold many men. Some will hold up to one hundred fifty warriors, but a typical party would be 20-30 raiders,” said Cuan. “Also like us, they use the war club, the thrusting spear and the knife.”
The Taino war club came in as many shapes and descriptions as there were fighters, each one fashioned by its owner to his particular taste and strength. Cuan’s was made of hardwood, rounded and smooth at the grip then flattening out to a paddle shape. About five feet in length, the paddle end was thirty inches long and studded with shark’s teeth along both its cutting edges. It could be used with one hand or two and could inflict an astonishing amount of damage.
Like the war club, the knives and spears were as varied as the men. Lliago had noticed the knives of the runners were of copper and intricately made. They would not hold an edge for more than a cut or two he knew, so were more decorative than useful. Lliago was more interested in the source of the copper, as it could be used as a substitute for lead for firearm projectiles. He would visit with Cuan later on this.
Many of the spears had wicked rear facing barbs that would inflict even more damage when pulled back.
“I would suggest,” said Mateo, “a trained force of sixty Taino warriors, along with seven Arì, we foreign Basque warriors with our firearms, be always ready at a moment’s notice for battle.” Mateo had begun to use the Taino word for stranger, Ita’ for the remaining crew “Do the Caribs raid at night?” he asked.
“Very rarely,” replied Cuan, “ they like the predawn or just as the sun is setting, although anytime will do when the opportunity presents itself.”
“It is mostly by stealth that they are successful,” added Allemanda, “Coming in quietly, having the sun at their backs so their victims must squint into the sun, and using the constant sounds of the jungle to mask the small noise they make. Sometimes whole families have disappeared with even a close neighbor being unaware.”
“So we must be prepared and on the alert from several hours before dawn until several hours after sunset. In addition, I think we should have watchers posted throughout the night. We will keep watch at the stockade at all hours should they be foolish enough to enter the bay at night,” suggested Mateo.
Lliago had been nodding his head in agreement as Mateo spoke. “Perhaps one of us should be on duty at any given time to keep things orchestrated?” added Lliago, indicating himself, Mateo and Juan Grande. “With three groups of sixty men, each group working every third day” said Lliago, “each of us and our six companions will have the opportunity to work and train with each group.”
The Taino also had some amazing bowmen. The bow itself was not terribly powerful, but the bowmen could hit about anything within fifty yards. They used several different poisons on the tip, including the extracted juice of the casaba, which could paralyze their prey, yet leave it edible.
“We also have some heavier bows,” boasted Allemanda. “The warrior, on his back, will hold the bow against his upraised feet, pulling the string back with both arms. It will send a much heavier shaft three times as far,” she added, with obvious pride.
"What my sister fails to mention," added Cuan with a smile, "is that Allemanda herself has been firing such a bow since she could walk and is far superior to any other bowman. She unfailingly can pierce a gourd at one hundred paces. She bawled when she could not draw back a normal bow, so my father fashioned a small foot-held version for her.”
“These missiles would undoubtedly even punch through Spanish armor,” stated Mateo, examining one of the nasty looking bolts for the bow, speaking and looking at no one in particular.
Chapter 33) Lliago and Allemanda
They walked along the shore of a favorite private cove perhaps four leagues from Marién.
Lliago had contrived to have a cabana set up on the soft sand, on the level above the tide line, complete with food and drink for their day there. They had paddled up early, and had spent the day exploring tide pools, relaxing, swimming and doing what lovers do.
Their love affair was quite boring. Although Lliago had “known” women in his travels and had been besotted with a neighboring peasant girl at thirteen or fourteen, there was no love back in Logronio, his childhood home, awaiting him.
His competing suitor for Allemanda’s affections was her cousin, a close childhood friend, and heir apparent of another powerful Taino clan.
Upon seeing Allemanda and Lliago so happy together, and admiring and liking Lliago so much, he quickly and quietly faded away. He would admit to no one his incredible relief. Although Allemanda was stunningly beautiful and many other men had looked on him in envy, the idea of living with such a powerful personality, a woman who knew your thoughts before you had even a chance to form them, had filled him with dread for the future. Rumor had it he had quickly attached himself to another, a girl he had shared a secret love with that only his assumed betrothal to Allemanda had kept apart.
Allemanda, for her part, had decided they were a pair seemingly ages ago, and had been impatiently waiting for Lliago to catch up.
Lliago had intended to ask her to be his today, and have Father Alonzo perform a wedding, a blessing for the union before consummation. However, both being young healthy adults, in love and alone on a secluded beach, that horse had already left the barn.
“I’ll ask for absolution tomorrow,” sighed Lliago contentedly, as he followed Allemanda into the gentle surf, the background sky on fire with another breathtaking sunset.
Fade to black…
Chapter 34) Franco’s Puzzle
The sun had set just a few hours earlier for us on board the Mariagallante, seven hundred nautical miles to the east. As the stars began to blaze above, I reviewed the work I had done so far and what I would need to do to really change the course of destruction we were on.
I began to realize that to convince Colón of anything I had first to see things from his point of view. If I thought of him as a heartless monster and treated him thus, I could not possibly be successful. My sullen looks and short answers when we conversed did not seem to be improving our relationship. Fortunately, as much as I disliked many aspects of Colón, I am afraid I also had an affection and admiration for the bastarde.
Realistically, against Pané and myself was arrayed Colón’s drive for quick wealth and power. He always seemed intimidated by the wealthy and by the titled nobility in his dealings with them back in Seville. Gaining both position and wealth to be their equals, rather than for what wealth could buy, seemed the need that drove him.
There were also the promises made and schemes he has concocted with his various investors. They would exert tremendous pressures on him to perform.
He also apparently lacked faith in the long term strategy of gaining wealth, prestige and influence through spices, sugar, wood, potash and gold produced or mined by the Hispanic or willing Indios. This was a little surprising considering his background. In his family’s wool business it took three years to realize a profit from the raw wool they purchased, so hard work and patience should come easily to him.
What we, Pané and I, had for our arguments were the clear wishes of the Catholic Monarchs that their subjects not participate in the slave trade. This was not an argument Colón could easily set aside. We also had the example of Jaquez Couer, the French spice trader, who had gained both astonishing wealth and power through trading goods alone, never the buying and selling of humans.
I had roughly calculated the potential profits of trading directly with the merchants in the Orient, cutting out the Venetians, Genoese, and Egyptians. Even with a six to eight month round trip voyage, it was quite staggering. Seeing these numbers in ink would be a powerful persuader.
Further, we had the subtle but insistent influence of Father Pané. For all his faults, Colón was a very religious man who could be reasoned with on spiritual grounds.
I also had to realize that not everyone saw things from my standpoint. This helped me to commit to dealing with Colón in a less confrontational manner.
It is easy to expect everyone to see things through our own eyes, base the reasons for their decisions and views on our life experiences, and come to our conclusions on their motives based on these probably false assumptions. It would be convenient if we could live another man’s life for a day before we judge them.
Throughout the world, in every culture, many were gaining wealth through the buying and selling of human men and women. Arab pirates capturing and selling Christian Europeans, Portuguese buying and selling Africans, captured by other Africans. Arab Moor slaves powering the Christian galley…
China imported slaves from India, Indonesia, South Eastern Africa and the Middle East, reported Marco Polo. The Greeks, the Romans, the Jews all bought and sold slaves, the Jews were taken as slaves by both Babylonia and Egypt.
In the very islands we now travelled to, the Caribe were raiding and capturing the Taino, the Caribe trading them to some unknown foe to the south.
It was less than fifty years ago that the Catholic Church decreed it immoral for a Christian to enslave another Christian. Although there was a big push by our new Pontiff to prohibit slave ownership of anyone, enslavement of non-Christians was still considered permissible. In fact, the Papal galleys were even now rowed by Moorish Slaves.
The fact was, my own world vision was the exception and not the rule. The only moral argument we have is the fact that the Catholic Monarchs have declared the Indios “de-facto” subjects, and therefore “de-facto” Christians who cannot be enslaved.
Far from being the monster I had concluded he was, I began to realize that Colón, though a monster in my eyes, was simply a product of his time and fit in perfectly with the thinking any explorer or trader of the day. Had there been no Colón, another explorer, exploiter or trader would have gladly taken his place.
Chapter 35) Franco’s Distance Problem
We also had to overcome Colón’s insistence that Cipango and Cathay were just a few days beyond Hispaniola. The overwhelming evidence pointed to a voyage of many more months, provided there were no other lands or unknown obstacles encountered.
I was certain Colón was being obtuse for the benefit of some of the investors. I suspected he had known all along the actual distance to be covered, but felt that, once on his way, and the investors monies committed, he would eventually encounter the east. By claiming it was closer, it was easier to sell his scheme to his merchant investors.
Although ostensibly, his seventeen ship’s captains had to agree with Colón’s reckoning of a smaller earth circumference, these were not uneducated sailors. The manner in which the issue was skirted by Colón and his captains indicated to me that I might be entering dangerous waters no matter which calculation I used.
Once again Father Pané pointed out to me that this was not an argument that I needed to win. I only needed to show that spices were more profitable regardless.
“Choose your battle wisely.” Pané advised. You do not need to ‘win’ either the size of the earth argument or the slavery argument. The money argument, the profit… that is what will move all these men when nothing else will.”
So I decided to calculate the profits based on a ‘worst case’ eight month round trip, citing vague reasoning of potential foul weather, problems with the ships and necessary repairs, potential delays in the trading for and loading of cargoes and so forth. In this manner Colón and his investors could see the realistic value of these calculations, while not having to confront or acknowledge the distance discrepancy.
If I could mathematically prove to Colón, that filling the empty holds with spices from the Orient, as well as the gold mined in cooperation with the Taino during Colón’s voyage to China and back, and, in future years, sugar from cane grown and harvested, again with the cooperation of the natives, would be easier and more profitable than the slave trade, the issue would be resolved.
Unfortunately, I only had about a week to accomplish this task. I wondered what was happening on the island now. Were all the men Colón left behind still alive and well? Were they able to make inroads with the Taino? Would cooperation between Taino and Hispanian be possible?
Chapter 36) Caribe attack on Marién
The quarter moon showed vaguely through the spring mist creating an eerie glow over the water. As the mist rolled onto shore it seemed to be torn by the trees, ragged tatters continuing inland. There was another light barely noticeable in the east, a pre-dawn glow.
Although the night sounds had stilled appreciably, a few birds were beginning to stir adding a plaintive note into the almost inaudible buzz of insects that never completely disappeared. An occasional splash of a fish somewhere out in the mist, the creak of a tree bough, the ripple of almost imperceptible, calm sea, these were the normal sounds of the forest and shore.
From barely one hundred yards out two long dugout canoes, carrying close to thirty men each appeared from the mist coming towards shore. Several men in the rear would occasionally and silently ply their paddles, urging the canoes towards shore.
The silent watcher had heard a solid “thunk” of a paddle hitting wood and a tight hiss of disapproval nearly fifteen minutes earlier. He stood, frozen in place, listening for further sounds of their presence, further evidence that it was not his imagination working overtime, as these foes inexorably closed on the small bay where he waited.
He thought of his wife and small children, as well as his extended family of sisters, in-laws, nieces, nephews and parents back in their circular hut barely one thousand yards inland and worried to his soul for their safety.
These intruders, no doubt, were the murderous and cannibalistic Caribe he had been warned might be coming. The death and destruction they left in their wake was numbing and terrifying. No one seemed capable of standing before them. Their stealth and brutality was legendary.
Even though the Taino numbered in the hundreds of thousands, nearly three thousand of their friends and neighbors had either been slain or enslaved by these demons in the past year alone. They attacked with impunity and were gone like wraiths before any counter attack could be mounted.
He steeled his nerves, and bravely stepped from out of the trees with his bow and club to meet this hoard as then beached the canoe and splashed ashore. He drew in a deep breath as he prepared to blow a blast from his Conch shell, before hopelessly attacking them alone.
Suddenly the night erupted in the brilliant light of several columns of flame lit on shore. Almost simultaneously, a rain of arrows showered down on the disembarking enemy, half of the Caribe levelled in the first onslaught.
In confusion and fear, the remaining foes milled around their fallen comrades, searching in vain for their attackers. Four shots rang out, and several warriors jerked spasmodically, adding to the turmoil. A second flight of arrows then hit them with devastating effect.
An extraordinarily large warrior bellowed to the remaining force and with their aid began to push one of the canoes back into the sea, when four more loud reports rang out. Two of the four shots slammed the giant backwards into the sea and a third ball smashed the knee of yet another.
The loud roar of the attackers drowned the cries of the remaining Caribe, and forty fierce Taino warriors, wielding clubs and spears, along with seven, sword-wielding Basque descended on the survivors.
With his longer legs, Lliago was able to outpace his comrades and met the blow of his foe’s war club with a ferocious swing of his blade, sending the club flying. His speed carried him past this enemy and into what must have been his twin, barreling him over and connecting with a back-slash to his chest. He turned back to deal with the first brother but Cuan, close on his heels, had nearly cloven his head with his war club.
Turning back, Lliago was on time to see the full swing of another club coming his way, this enemy at that very moment being slammed backwards by a heavy arrow spoiling the swing just enough for Lliago to dodge beneath it. Oddly, in the midst of this fierce battle he recalled no foot-bowmen in his group of fighters. He had felt the breath and bulk of the bolt as it barely cleared his own head.
And just like that it was over…
The last two surviving were thrown to the ground and trussed up, prisoners to be taken to Guacanagari as requested.
Lliago, gasping in deep breaths, looked about at the carnage they had wrecked on the Caribe in perhaps thirty seconds, nearly sixty dead and two prisoners. There were no wounded. He vomited violently, fully realizing how very close to death he had come, the Taino chuckling a little at him good-naturedly, several patting his back affectionately as they gathered their foe’s weapons and trinkets.
Chapter 37) Celebrate Victory
By late morning an impromptu celebration was in full swing.
Perhaps fifty dancers, each with their own mayohavau, a drum like instrument made from a hollowed hardwood log and decorated to that family’s taste or symbols and audible from a league or more away, pounded out a rhythm. They were accompanied by numerous amaraca, gourds that contained stones within that rattled out a pleasant accompaniment. The onlookers chanted out a chorus that roughly translates to, “they came and we destroyed them”. Between these choruses, a warrior, or his family’s singer, would intone a boast of that particular warrior’s feats during the attack, embellishing it a little more as their turn to sing came around again.
Oroco, the youth who ran with the alarm to bring the warriors to the bay where the attack took place, was mentioned quite often. He and his older brother, the warrior who heard and then spotted the Caribe, sat in places of honor near Guacanagari.
Also in places of honor were Lliago and Mateo, with Allemanda between and Cuan to their right. Allemanda’s pride in her people’s victory, but especially her love and esteem for Lliago, her mate, and his leadership, was clearly evident and unmistakable.
Lliago’s affection and pride in these gentle, generous and, when necessary, ferocious Taino, as well as his great adoration for Allemanda, was equally obvious.
“We will sing of this victory for generations,” exclaimed Cuan excitedly. Because Cuan had been instrumental in the alliance between the Basque and Taino for their mutual defense, he also was enjoying increased prestige among his people. A dozen lovely maidens were making their esteem more than clear.
Even in his joy of victory, Lliago was well aware at how much fortune, or perhaps luck was the better word, had turned in his favor. The Basque and Taino had worked and trained together tirelessly over the past few weeks, but that was entirely too little time to become the seamless fighting group they could be.
Of his sixty-man force that needed to be ready to respond instantly, only forty or so had come properly equipped and ready to fight. Others had to return for bows or clubs to their huts, rousting others along the way that had not heard the call or were confused on their day’s duty.
Had Orocene not heard the Caribe when he did, had he second guessed himself and not sent Oroco with the alarm, if the Caribe had been able to land and move inland, it could have been a completely different story.
As it was, his undersized fighting force was very heavy with bowmen, who, while devastating to the Caribe on the beach trying to land, would have been mostly ineffective if the Caribe had made it to the sheltering forest.
The only casualty was an unfortunate warrior who, in his half sleep, had tripped coming from his hut and had fallen on his own razor sharp club, inflicting a serious gash across his chest. Several of his less inhibited comrades added a few lines of jest in their turn at verse, bragging on their own feats, but adding an improbable line about how this unlucky youth had received his wound.
One verse told of how four giant Caribe, mistaking him for a woman, were carrying him back to their canoe, he being wounded while escaping their grasp. Another told how the warrior’s wife had to beat him with his own club to awaken him. Although he occasionally smiled at these jibes, “it probably would have been more merciful if the Caribe had killed and eaten him,” said Lliago to his small group, laughing.
Guacanagari beamed upon everyone. The success of this venture had so many implications, had raised so many possibilities, that he could hardly contain his enthusiasm and high spirits.
To begin with, his ‘reign’, he was very aware, was only by the will of the people. With abundant food, pleasant seasons, very little strife with neighboring tribes, his people would continue to follow his lead. In his youth he had led many a battle to secure his area of influence among the neighboring Taino Cacicazgos and protect his people from the marauding Carib. His strength and valor were legendary, and many songs and chants reminded his people of his greatness, his protection and his generosity.
With the coming of Colón, his prestige had suffered. Allowing two of his kinsmen to be ‘honored’ with a visit to the Hispanic homeland, along with dozens more of his people, this honor being enforced by several dozen armed and mailed soldiers, had wounded the leader in spirit and his sense of security for his people and his reign. His own daughter would never forgive him for allowing Colón to kidnap her youngest brother and favorite cousin, rarely speaking to him and never with her previous demeanor of pride and honor.
To witness the success of his son and potential heir in his first major battle, and the success of this new form of fighting, rekindled his martial spirit, pride and sense of invulnerability. Never again would he or his people be cowed by invaders.
In hindsight, he could see that he should have simply fallen upon Colón and his men when they first landed and destroyed them, removing this threat entirely. However, with the alliance now formed between Lliago’s people and Cuan’s two hundred warriors, an alliance that had been strengthened by the uniting of Lliago and Allemanda, he saw that his warriors would soon be trained to be an unconquerable force in his world.
Looking around he noticed the absence of the Shaman and his clan. Guacanagari had made his displeasure in the priest’s connivance with Colón, with the result of his son and niece becoming hostages, quite clear. He had not seen them in evidence in months. Like the centipede, however, he knew it was only the ones you don’t see that were dangerous.
For the moment, all is well in his Cacicazgos, and he would do all he could to keep it that way.
Chapter 38) Guacanagari’s thoughts after Victory
(The Taíno Indians lived in theocratic kingdoms and had hierarchically arranged chiefs or caciques. The Taínos were divided in three social classes: the naborias (work class), the nitaínos or sub-chiefs and noblemen which includes the bohiques or priests and medicine men and the caciques or chiefs, each village or yucayeque had one. http://www.topuertorico.org/reference/taino.shtm)
It was several mornings later. His people had recovered from the feast that had carried on far into the following day, but there was still a festive feel in the air.
He sat out on his porch area facing the ocean, his usual morning cojiba glowing nicely as he inhaled. There were still a few fishermen coming in from their morning run. Some caguama, the gold and rainbow colored, blunt headed fish he loved best, had been spotted on the farther reef and he was hoping for some for his dinner. “I seem to worship my own belly!” he thought to himself, laughing a little. He felt a little rounder these days, especially when compared to the young, tough warriors who had been bragging of their feats in battle. “I could still destroy any two!” he thought, truthfully.
He was a big man. Barely an inch taller that Lliago, the tallest other than him, he easily weighed one hundred pounds more, most of it muscle, and looked twice Lliago’s size . “But age eventually catches up to all of us,” he added to himself.
He was now father to all the Marién Taino and bore this honor and burden easily and naturally. But at heart he was a warrior and had revisited the accounts of the battle over and over again.
Because his people had all their necessities more than covered, both he, and they, had, so far, no dreams of conquering others, no desire to rule other lands or even expand Marién. Defense against those who would interfere with their way of life was their only concern. If a farmer needed more land for his expanding family, there was plenty to be had. If more fish were needed, the bounty of the sea around them was apparently inexhaustible. The unique problem that they did struggle with was too much free time and greed for material things and prestige. No martial tactics, no strength of arms could fight this.
It was a phenomenon that intrigued and perplexed the Cacique. His family had come to power not only by their strength and prowess in battle, but also the judiciousness of both rulers, husband and wife. Their ability to co-exist with the neighboring Cacique (there were ten on the island of Quisqueya) as well as keeping an extended peaceful and bountiful period in their own territory, guaranteed their continued leadership. He glanced over at his wife who looked back with the usual sparkle and fire in her eyes. “His people would be amazed at how this feisty, strong, opinionated woman could make him tremble,” he chuckled to himself. She was the ultimate power.
The surprising result of all this success, however, was constant bickering and infighting among the nobility, the extended families of relatives that inhabited the squared lodges around the village center, and the widening rift with the common people. Their constant intrigues and plotting to gain more when they already had so much was completely incomprehensible to Guacanagari, their poor treatment of the Naboria, the working class, unpardonable. At the heart of it was the Humacao Clan.
When Guacanagari’s parents died, the past Caciques of Marién, within a few months of each other, Guacanagari was but sixteen summers, although already a powerful warrior. His older cousin Humacao at twenty five, was the eldest grandson to the penultimate rulers, and his powerful clan pushed hard for the mantel of Cacique - to pass to him as Guacanagari was obviously too young.
Guacanagari had been devastated by his father’s sudden death.
Nearly as big as Guacanagari, Quitanas was a boisterous, loud, laughing man most of the time, had a kind word for all and was adored by the people. Guacanagari recalled a favorite episode where a powerful and wealthy Nitiano Noble had been senselessly and brutally berating and beating one of the fishermen, a young mute who cared only to fish and be left alone. With a relatively gentle backhand slap, Quitanas sent the noble sprawling. He then ordered the Noble to assist the fisherman every morning for the coming ten days as punishment, cleaning his catch and carrying it from house to house.
By the third day, Quintana regretted the severity of the punishment. Loathing to go back on his command, however, he instead joined the pair each morning to clean the catch and distribute it. By the week’s end the three became close and the two leaders could be heard laughing and jesting at their work, the mute fisherman smiling on.
He sadly recalled his father’s passing. The two had been hunting together in the mountains. On the return, when within site of the buildings of Marién, the father challenged the son to a foot race home, bursting forward in a fast run. Laughing, Gua took off after his father, quickly passing the heavier man. He soon became aware that he was running alone and glanced back to see his father crumpled at the side of the trail. Hoping it was but a jest or ruse, something his father was very capable of, Gua raced back.
And just like that his father was gone. His heartbroken mother faded away, dying a scant six months later, though barely fifty summers.
The wrestling for control became fierce and the sixteen year old Gua, reeling over the deaths of both parents, and still quite young, was overwhelmed by the Humacao clan and their angry grasp for power.
Only the incredible strength of his grandmother, as well as her diplomacy, kept the rift from ending in a civil war.
The Humacao clan would take over control of the priest class, second only to the power of the Cacique himself. This had caused almost unending background strife in Marién, and Gua seemed forever at odds with the Humacao. Humacao and his growing cadre of followers held the upper class to be far superior in importance to what they really were, and looked on the working class as merely servants.
While the Naboria, the commoners among his people, enjoyed their lives in hunting, farming fishing and gathering, and their spare time in play, rest or song, the young noble men and women had no need to hunt, fish or farm, weave or even prepare food. For the lucky dolts among them, this caused laziness, obesity and a strange, unproductive slyness. For the intelligent and active, it caused nervousness and snappishness, a queer quickness to anger at the slightest provocation or imagined insult.
A strange, new, and bothersome custom was also beginning to invade the nobility. From Cotui’, the Cacicazgos to the east, came cunningly crafted gold and copper ornaments that the higher classes seemed to be obsessed with. Because there was no utilitarian use for these objects, this obsession was very troubling and inexplicable to Guacanagari. Though simple in design, even his wife, Quisquaya, now wore a necklace with small figures of copper dangling from it and many of his children seemed drawn to these fetishes. Although none of his children were allowed to wear them in his home or presence, he had no intention of even attempting to prohibit his wife’s adornment.
One family had gone so far as to give up their rights to a beautiful stand of trees, sufficient to build numerous shelters and canoa in exchange for a few hundred of these trinkets. Rather than their neighbors condemning them for their foolishness, their prestige actually grew. Astonishing!
Guacanagari was further perplexed by Lliago’s interest in these figures, until he discovered Lliago’s thoughts ran instead on ways to form more projectiles for his guns from this copper.
He vaguely associated these trinkets with the fall of his own people generations ago, and their flight to these islands. Stories of the wealth and prestige of his ancestors, their subjugation of other tribes and use of them as slaves, their priest cult, with the heavy reliance on power and ritualistic slaying of criminals and captured enemies to retain that power, were all very abhorrent to him.
Like his father and grandfather before him, he knew that his own power was earned by the strength of his own arm in battle, and the wisdom of both he and his wife in the day to day decisions that sustained the peace and prosperity of his people.
He recalled his early life, fishing and hunting with his friends. No cares or worries, not these huge gaps between classes or the need to act or feel particularly superior, even though his father was Cacique of this part of the island. Although he was closest to his brothers and cousins, many of his adventures, games, fights and mischief was among the people, the Naboria of Marién.
His mother would have been embarrassed, even appalled at the thought of someone else cooking their meals, caring for her children or keeping their home clean, just as his own wife was. She did not find this work demeaning; rather she had great pride in her own participation in the circle of daily life and passing that knowledge and experience on to her children. Nor did it diminish her in her co-ruling of these people. Her advice and pronouncements carried every bit as much weight as her husband’s.
Now he had to deal with the deepening disdain of the privileged class towards the ones that were providing all the food, shelter and labor for all his people. He cringed at the way the wealthy, many of them his relatives, treated their servants.
The strife caused by having too much bounty, and too much time to enjoy it was somewhat relieved by the frequent Batey ball games played in the town square. Always violent, the recent matches between the Natiano and Naboria youths had been particularly brutal, with as much unnecessary carnage away from the ball as useful near it. It was from here that Guacanagari picked his house guard, the one hundred warriors that protected his immediate household, so there was much effort to distinguish oneself during these matches. It also diffused much of the otherwise pent up antagonism between the two classes. After the slaughter, there was much comradery between opposing players, especially those involved in a particularly well executed maneuver.
Chapter 39) Description of Batey
Father Alonzo’s description of the game is as follows…
“Played with a hard, elastic and surprisingly active ball, a team of thirty naked warriors, yes, warrior is the correct term as many a battle was fought with less injury, would have control of the ball and advance towards their opponent’s goal. The contestants were generally men, but a particularly strong or agile woman was not uncommon.
The ball could never be touched with the hands, instead being passed from one to another by knees, feet, head, elbows… any body part except the hands. Once the goal was reached they would pass the ball between two stones, about 3’ in height and 6’ apart to score a point. Quite simple it would seem…
Except as you were trying to pass the ball you were being assaulted by kicks, tackles and shoves by as many of your opponents as could get to you. Running into an outstretched, burly arm as you were running full tilt, looking skyward for the ball passed to you, having your legs kicked from under you at any time, being tackled by three or four opponents at once was the norm.
Although few deaths occurred on the court, broken bones, noses, concussions and contusions were frequent, with the most violent collisions bringing roars of approval from the crowd. Frequently a combatant would be knocked unconscious, and would be lucky to be dragged to the side by a comrade, as play continued uninterrupted. There were no breaks in the action until a team succeeded in a point.
The most dexterous and nimble were generally the passers, with the most burley, strong and fearsome acting as protectors or blockers, switching to attackers if the opponents controlled the ball.
A week would not pass without a contest, and games between youths from 6 or seven years of age upwards seemed to be always going on.
These games were used frequently to settle border disputes with neighboring cacicazgos. A dispute over a group of trees to be harvested, or a patch of ground to be hunted or farmed, was a welcome excuse for a Batey, rather than a war.
There was to be a great game this afternoon with the two Basque leaders, Mateo and Lliago, participating as honorary guests. Guacanagari hoped that neither man would get much in the way of the rivalry, or, get hurt too badly.
Both Mateo and Lliago stood a head taller than the combatants they were surrounded by. Each was an honorary player on opposite teams. They had discussed how they should hold back, so as not to show up their hosts at their own game, a game they were so proud of. With their height and strength advantage, it was simply unfair.
As luck would have it, the first pass came towards Lliago. He was looking over his shoulder, deciding on how to pass it on when he ran into what felt like a solid tree branch, halting his body while his feet continued on and into the air.
He came to moments later, on his back, with a confusing view as several dozen naked warriors ran around and over him. He quickly and unsteadily tried to get to his feet, more interested in not getting trampled than in re-entering the game. He had regained a kneeling position with one foot down and an attempt to rise, when a blow he could never quite remember drove his head back down to the ground. He would not remember anything else in the game.
New Chapter 40) Guacanagari Smokes and thinks
It was late morning, and the riot of awakening children, grumpy parents and hunger all around was over.
He sat in his favorite spot, his veranda facing north to the sea, enjoying the cool shadows as the day’s heat began to intensify. Many of the youngest children were bathing and splashing in the shallow pool of water formed by a tide pool within the protection of the bay off to his right, their squeals of delight mingling with the cry of the seagulls, each almost indiscernible from the other.
The day’s catch of fish had long been brought in and Gua looked forward to his midday meal, a beautiful dorado with a bit of roasted patata and maize. There would be a relish of avocado and papaya. Although he had enjoyed this meal countless times, it never failed to give him satisfaction.
The wind had shifted, so he could now enjoy his cohiba, a tightly dried and rolled cylinder of tobacco. His wife did not mind this indulgence outside, but if the smoke entered their cabana, the pain would far outweigh the pleasure.
These children, from tiny ones barely able to walk, to around nine summers old, were watched over by young maidens of ten to fifteen summers. In this group he noticed Cassia, a very pretty, happy and energetic youth of fourteen, who had recently joined his family. Her youthful exuberance and laughter, her enjoyment of the little children, even her coquettish flirtations with the young fishermen, who were supposed to be repairing their nets on the beach, were a welcome and sharp contrast to the Cassia of just a few weeks before.
She had run to him and his wife for protection, a few days after the grand victory over the Caribe, an obviously frightened and possibly injured child breaking all rules by entering their private quarters.
She had lost her mother and father in a Caribe raid years before. Unable to provide enough food for her and her grandmother she did work for a household of the elite in exchange for food and help keeping their shelter in repair. Normally she would have been adopted and simply gone and lived with that family, but her grandmother loved her small hut, the hut she, her Granddaughter and her daughter had been born in and would not live elsewhere.
She was just a tiny thing, of maybe ten when she was orphaned. A very pretty child with long thick ringlets of curly dark hair, sparkling eyes and a happy smile and disposition, she would be a wonderful addition to any family. As she had been a playmate to her host family’s daughter for years, it was assumed that when her grandmother passed she would become a family member.
The Taino were a very giving and open people. Although the super abundance they enjoyed made generosity, hospitality and charity relatively easy, the closeness, and mutual support fostered by their flight and survival just a few generations earlier was deeply ingrained.
Although it started out well, little by little, without the awareness of others, a condescending and possessive manner developed towards the young girl by her adoptive family. More and yet more was demanded, until the child was trapped in a debtor’s prison of sorts, trying to work off the help this family had given hers with no hope of ever accomplishing this.
Then came the attack in Guacanagari’s home…
While mostly prone on the packed sand floor within, playfully feeding their own, tiny, two year old granddaughter, the Cacique rulers, Guacanagari and Kiskeya, heard a tumult, like a coming wave, approaching their home. Suddenly a young Taino girl burst into the room, an unheard of incident in itself. Although the confrontation was over in seconds, it seemed to the Cacique that it happened quite slowly, with every detail standing out sharply in his mind.
Cassia, the young Taino maiden, he noticed, was growing into a pretty young woman, perhaps now thirteen or fourteen. She was also quite disheveled and in obvious distress, her cheek and arm showing some bright red welts. On her heel came a large angry man, who Gua recognized as his cousin Humacao, whose family supplied all of the shaman for the island. He knew he did not like or trust him and was furious that he would dare invade his home. Humacao was followed by two of Gua’s own young sons, obviously coming to protect their father.
As Cassia practically jumped over the rulers and their granddaughter to get behind them for protection, the intruder began to roar a demand, Kiskeya assumed, for the fleeing maiden.
Quick as a Cat, Guacanagari came from a prone position to upright while thrusting his elbow and forearm forward, knocking the intruder off his feet, with a spray of blood flying from a bloody nose. Had he been conscious when his back hit the floor, he would have seen three thrusting comanque war clubs at his chest and Gua’s knife at his throat. Kiskeya was astonished that she held the third club in her own hands, amazed that she had somehow grabbed it from its spot more than five strides away, returning even as the intruder hit the floor.
Humacao! From a noble family with much influence in the village, they supplied virtually all of the holy men, or bohiques, for Gua’s chiefdom, Marién, the result of the dispute on young Guacanagari’s succession to the throne and his grandmother’s negotiations to secure it. Although all of the lesser chiefs were close relatives of Gua, the family of Humacao was strong, and constantly pushed and manipulated the leaders with their bohique’s omens and advice.
In fact, it was the cousin of this Humacao, a bohique priest, known as Doguao, who had convinced many Taino that Colón and his men were demi-gods. Sadly and embarrassingly, he was even able to convince Gua to allow his youngest son and a niece to accompany Colón on his return to Hispania, exclaiming what an honor it was and how important it was to please these visitors. By the actions of these Hispanic fiends, Gua soon realized his mistake, and could never forgive Doguao, and by extension, Humacao and his family, or most especially, himself!
And this Humacao had delivered himself into his hands, committing a capital offense when he assaulted the Cacique, in his own home, with plenty of witnesses.
New Chapter 39) Franco makes huge progress with alternate plan
My sense was that Colón had made a deal with the Devil, guaranteeing delivery of a certain volume of human cargo returned in the ships that were used to deliver all the livestock to Hispaniola. It would seem that the captains of these vessels must also be involved in the scheme, making a change in plan at this point even more difficult for Colón.
But once convinced of the right course, I knew Colón’s strength of character and sense of power as “Admiral of the Ocean Sea” would make it not only possible, but necessary that he “inform” those involved of his decision. He would not ask for their agreement or approval.
I had learned much valuable information in my father’s presence over the years and especially in his salon, where friends and learned associates would often gather informally for discussions about anything you might think of. From local farming techniques to world trade and religion, no topic was discouraged, with the exception of gossip, which my father would never countenance.
But more than merely gaining information, I learned how to “be” in the presence of others. I learned how to really listen to what they were saying, even if my beliefs were completely at odds with their thinking. How to look for and appreciate whatever shining parts or attributes these men might have, even if I found their words odious.
I am still guilty, of course. I am still so busy formulating my return arguments that I am not always, or even mostly, successful at listening as well as I should. Knowing my fault, however, I will often go back in my mind later, and review what was said, in a less emotional and more thoughtful manner.
In time, while still considering his faults, I came to quite like and admire Admiral Colón. It seems to me no one is all anything. Everyone has their good points as well as their faults, including me.
We had recently formed the habit of a late afternoon stroll together back by the taffrail, at the stern, or rear of the ship. By stroll I mean, Colón would take 5 steps along the taffrail at the very rear of the ship, to the port-rail along the left edge of the ship looking forward, a precise right turn and 4 steps along the port rail. Then a return to the starboard rail along where 5 steps led down to the main deck, and back to the taffrail, a neat square. I would follow in a much slower circle within his square, roughly keeping pace, or stopping altogether as he would never be more than ten feet from me. When he was agitated and walking quickly I would have to stop or risk falling from dizziness. Colón had worn a mark into each corner where he would make his abrupt and exact right angle turn, polishing that spot over and again as his foot pivoted on the same spot.
Colón explained, when I asked about his slightly exaggerated stride, that each five and one half circuits measured a cable, or six hundred feet or one-hundred fathoms or two-hundred strides. Further, ninety circuits equaled a Roman mile of 4860 feet, two-hundred-seventy circuits equaled a league, the distance an average man could walk in an hour. The distance from his home in Cordoba to the Cathedral and return, that he had walked daily with his son for morning mass, was equal to one-hundred-fifty-two circuits, which he decided to make his daily walk on deck.
I must admit that I would stay upwind as much as possible, trying not to be too obvious. After weeks at sea, I am sure I was as ripe as any of the crew, however, Colón took after the manner of the court and attempted to mask his odor with what must have been a small cask of perfume. The mix of the two competing forces was overwhelming and more than a little nauseating. And so my dance continued.
Colón was about my height, around 5’ 11” , which made us both taller than most of our contemporaries. He had a ruddy red complexion, with very dark, almost black freckles. At forty, his hair was quite white, although when his beard would grow out it was dark red.
As I was a slender teen, still waiting to grow into my bones, Colón was much heavier, but in no way fat. His dress was unremarkable, tending towards the plain and simple, although always clean and neat. In an age when the prosperous, or those wanting to appear that way, dressed quite flamboyantly with color and accoutrements to stand out, Colón’s sensible and serviceable dress was a welcome change.
He was well spoken, with clear precise speech and the ability to communicate in Castilian, Italian, Portuguese, outstanding Basque and passable Latin. He was never bullying or loud, although, like my father, he commanded attention whenever he spoke. Why he was plagued with underlying insecurity was hard to tell.
He glanced back at me at one point, with assumed disgust. “Be a man pendejo! I assure you, you smell as bad as I!”
I was taken aback by his familiarity, the fact that I had been so obvious, and his uncharacteristically coarse language. My father and his closer friends, however, often engaged in such bawdy banter, so I recovered quickly, welcoming a chance for a better rapport.
“It is your perfume,” I returned after a few moments. “You smell just like the girl that awaits me back home, and that disconcerts me.”
He turned and walked on, chuckling to himself and shaking his head, muttering quietly “Pendejo!”
After two more circuits he asked, “Have you completed your calculations?”
He spoke of course, of my scheme to continue on with the livestock ships, once they were offloaded in Hispaniola, sailing on to Nippon, Cathay and The Spice Islands. We had tacitly agreed to ignore a precise estimation of the distance to these far lands, agreeing on a voyage of three months each direction, with sufficient water and food for the outer voyage.
The opposing plan, I strongly believed, was the transportation of the natives off the islands, as slaves, to Portugal and beyond, directly against the wishes of the Spanish Crown, but incredibly profitable and secure. I knew that Colón’s weak arguments, that bringing these heathens into Christian lands would be to their benefit, had been shattered by father Pané and to a lesser extent, myself. All that was needed was an alternative, highly profitable plan to share with his Portuguese Captains and co-conspirators that did not include the slave trade, yet would fulfill their own search for wealth and thereby keep them in line.
Although sugar produced from our beginning stock of cane would provide wealth down the line, as well as the gold the islands were sure to produce, it was clear to me that Colón felt the need for a huge financial return on this voyage to get out from under the weight of the investors and nobility.
We set a time to go over these numbers later that evening.
“I have been contemplating returning by way of Engliterra, Normandy and perhaps even Flanders!” threw out Colón excitedly with a gleam in his eye.
On the eventual return trip to Spain, the current and winds would naturally steer us to the Azores, much further north than the route we were on now. This was the case in Colón’s previous voyage. From there to London was a relatively easy passage. This northern journey might add a month or more to the voyage, but also would greatly increase the wealth gained, the object of all the investors.
Although the spices and silks of the East commanded huge prices in the Mediterranean, the profits doubled and tripled when they were traded in Northern countries. Combining these new calculations with what I was working on would certainly turn the heads of the Portuguese traders Colón had involved himself with. That Colón was growing excited over my proposal, and that the tone of our discussions were back on friendly terms, gave me great hope.
I had combined this report with another, estimating the massive work force that would be needed for sugar production, as well as support to feed and clothe this force, to further tarnish the taking of the Indio from Hispaniola. The long term profit potential, three to four years away, was staggering in itself. For the first time, my hopes of thwarting the beginning of a new, evil slave trade seemed possible, even probable … if Colón supported the alternative plan.
New Chapter 40) Hispaniola- Guacanagari in his Anger, Takes Control
The pieces seemed to be moving into place of their own accord, with only one possible outcome. Had Guacanagari been able to orchestrate the changes he wanted he could not possibly have planned better.
It was rumored that the Caciques to the east of the island had begun to give a certain number of their own Naboria people as captives to the Caribe as a sort of tribute or offering, an exchange to guarantee the safety of the population at large from attack.
This plan had been put forward by the Nitiano and priests who did not mind appeasing the Caribe with a few Naboria, or workers, as long as they were left alone.
This scheme was detestable in the eyes of Guacanagari and Kiskeya, but was now being put forward by their own sub-chiefs and priests. The same leaders who were willing to give away his region’s wealth and prosperity in exchange for worthless trinkets, now wanted to give away the people themselves in exchange for imagined security.
Losing his youngest son and niece to Colón was done in this same spirit of appeasement in Guacanagari’s mind, and his self-loathing for buying into this lunacy helped to kindle an incredible wrath towards the Spanish, the Caribe and now his own Nitiano class.
And this idiot of a Humacao, who was leader of this hated faction, was fool enough to enter his, Guacanagari’s home and make demands? Only Kiskeya’s calming words of counsel, to not dispatch this miscreant in front of his family and in their home, saved the Nitaino’s life, at least for the moment.
Roaring with anger, he began to drag Humacao, who was beginning to regain consciousness, by his hair, out of their lodge and out onto the ball court and town center. His household guard, as if by magic, appeared in a loose circle of protection around their Cacique with more of the trained warriors entering the square by two’s and three’s.
Concha began to blow and soon the whole valley was echoing with the sound of yells, running feet and the roar of the crowd gathering in the ball court. Who knows how the message is telegraphed, but soon everyone seemed aware that something huge was happening and they must get to the center.
Lliago and his men, as if by instinct, gathered their own bands of Taino warriors and headed in. Lliago was met on the way by Cuan, who had been sent by Guacanagari to inform Lliago that a showdown was about to come to a head, and all warriors were needed at the court.
Coming down the hill with his men and upwards of 500 fierce warriors, Lliago was surprised to see Guacanagari pacing the center of the ball court like a lion. Although Humacao had regained his feet, Guacanagari was leading him around by his hair. Stiff-armed, Guacanagari held Humacao doubled over at the waist, his head jerked to and fro as Guacanagari railed at the Nitaino Nobles gathered around, perhaps several thousand strong. They in turn were surrounded by tens of thousands of Naboria, who clearly saw Guacanagari as their leader and father.
The Nitiano had become sandwiched between Guacanagari’s outflowing rage and the increasing anger of the surrounding Naboria. This working class was becoming increasingly incited by Guacanagari’s accusations of the proposed sacrifice of the Naboria to the Caribe cannibals. He further accused the Nitiano of treason against the society as a whole, their worship of copper and gold coming before the welfare of the region, citing instances where valuable timber and farming land had been traded away.
As Nitiano families attempted to regain the safety of their homes, only women, children and the elderly were allowed to pass, and these leaving whatever ornamentation they had behind, not wanting to further enrage the crowd.
Lliago’s men and warrior bands inserted themselves between the two classes, as much to protect the remaining Nitiano, perhaps a thousand strong, as to keep them from retreating.
Guacanagari, an unusually large man anyway, seemed to have swollen to the size of a giant. His voice boomed and reverberated from the hills in his wrath, although for all the tumult, his words came across quite clearly.
The Cacique stopped in the center of the court facing the multitude until it became an almost silent mass. Looking down at his captive, he spoke quietly, yet somehow still audibly, “And finally, to show their great disdain for our society, their contempt for the old ways, their contempt for you all,” he paused for effect, “…their leader bursts into the lodge of your Cacique, unannounced or invited, demanding the return of a young Naboria girl he had been brutalizing…”
With another short pause, allowing his words to sink into the crowd and their anger to swell, in a final act of fury, Guacanagari threw Humacao to the ground. He brought his war club around in a full circle to a tremendous blow to the back of Humacao’s neck, severing it cleanly, the head tumbling a few steps, “We will no longer stand for this!”
After perhaps five seconds of stunned silence, a ferocious roar of approval came from the Naboria, while many of the remaining Nitiano threw themselves down, begging for mercy for themselves and their families.
It was not clear who was doing the pushing or pulling, but the high priest Doguao was suddenly thrust into the center of the square and toward Guacanagari. The whole valley became silent again, save for the omnipresent muted rumble of an occasional wave and the faintest cry of the seabirds, once again accentuating the stillness.
Guacanagari strode purposefully towards Doguao, who seemed frozen in place, quivering and weeping.
Next Chapter 41) Franco Succeeds
We had prevailed. As we neared land, there was no more talk of the slave trade. Although no land had been sighted yet, the abundance of land birds, occasional vegetation and the deep blue of the ocean fading to grey all pointed to the proximity of land.
Colón had convened a dinner and meeting on board the Mariagallante of the five greater captains, those who had provided ships and crews to this voyage and whose own fortunes were closely linked to the success of this venture.
For the dinner, our course had been altered slightly, and with the breeze coming from directly astern, the boat was on an exactly and solid even keel. Colón’s cabin had been cleared for the most part, with a large table and ten chairs set up for the gathering. As the cabin was entered, the finely set table, as well as the beautiful hardwoods of the cabin, were backlit by the eight beautiful framed stern windows, the ones on either end ajar to let wafts of fresh sea air to circulate.
Surprisingly, both the son and niece of the Cacique, Guacanagari, were present for the dinner portion of the meeting.
Dressed in Hispanic finery, Guadalupe, the ‘Castilianized’ form of Guancaa bestowed by Isabella, looked every bit the young noble-woman, sat on Colón’s right in the seat of honor. Her cousin, Nigari, sat on his left. Both of the Indios’ proficiency in Castilian amazed and delighted the captains, who were all enchanted by her beauty as well.
The genius of this was that the Indios now had a face. No longer could these captains imagine a barbaric hoard to simply fill their cargo holds, no longer could they be thought of as mere beasts to be bought and sold.
A beautiful atun had been caught earlier in the day and was the centerpiece of dinner. Cooked in an oblong clay pot over the brassiere with olive oil, dates and figs, it was the first wholesome meal I had eaten since leaving home. The resulting juices were spooned onto the mash of chickpeas, giving them a wonderful flavor.
Colón served out Chacoli wine from Cantabria, a sweet wine with a natural effervescence. I was used to the very sugary wines of the Palomino grape of Jerez and the Chacoli seemed to go well with the atun.
Nigari, the Cacique's youngest son, reinforced Colón’s description of a verdant land, teaming with life and opportunity at the Cacicazgos Marién, his father’s domain. His own acceptance of the Catholic faith was evidence of how simple it would be to win over these masses to the Catholic Crown. At fifteen, he was much more confident and convincing in his assertions than I could hope to be.
Nigari also spoke of the lands to the south and west of Kiskeya, the Taino name for Hispaniola, and the cities and wealth to be found there. The wealth in the yellow metal of the neighboring Chiefdom was also spoken of. Nigari did not specify that it was an abundance of copper, rather than the gold the captains imagined. In reality, he had little interest or knowledge of any difference.
Guadalupe spoke eloquently of the wisdom and power of her uncle, Guacanagari, his close ties with Colón, and the surety of the cooperation and mutual benefit of the two peoples.
Guadalupe had become part of Queen Isabella’s court during her months in Sevilla, and was treated like a young princess. Surrounded by both splendor and kindness, and being but fifteen years of age, she had a tremendous opinion of Castile, the Catholic Monarchs, and the opportunity for the Taino. She had been mostly shielded from the suffering of her own people that had resulted from their trip of honor from Hispaniola to Sevilla, their time there, and the return journey. As the young tend to, she had a tremendous capacity for seeing the good and ignoring the bad in those she cared for.
It was obvious that she honored Colón as a father, and fairly worshiped the Monarchs.
Colón appeared a little worn, and seemed to be having trouble with stiff knees and joints and Guadalupe was sincerely solicitous for his health, a very pretty picture of a caring daughter.
I am sure the effect was heightened by myself being trapped in the company of a hundred smelly, brutal, animalistic sailors for two fortnights, but I found her the most beautiful, delightful creature on God’s earth, and would have believed the world flat had she told me it were so.
Nigari and Guadalupe had been brought over from the Niña a week past. I had only caught glimpses of them with never a chance to speak or introduce myself. The disease that had broken out on the Niña had not affected any of the Indios, but had run through the crew like wildfire, killing more than half and leaving only a dispirited and weak crew to man her. No crew members could be sent from other ships for fear of mutiny. Sailors who feared no sword, knife or cannon would not face going to the diseased ship, no matter the threatened punishment.
The dinner was complete, and the captains began to enjoy a fine Jerez Sherry, the gift of my father. While Pané, Guadalupe, Nigari and I were directed to the bow of the ship to enjoy the fine evening, Colón and the captains remained in the stern cabin where dinner had been served, to discuss the imminent landfall and Colón’s trade plans. Both Pané and I were desperate to hear the discussion and outcome, but were forced to leave it in Colón’s hands.
Chapter 41.5) Juan Chico, close companion to Juan Grande, was not happy. He had gone along with the Basques that were abandoned on Hispaniola for survival’s sake. A small man, not only in stature, had befriended Juan Grande more for protection than anything else.
His father, a merchant in Pamplona, had greatly benefited by the subjugation of Navarre by Ferdinand of Aragon. He was much more in alignment with the Monarchs and Colón’s point of view than that of the other Basques. At first he was shocked when he was lumped with the others as one that would be left behind. Yet down inside, with his lack of self-worth, he correctly supposed it was because of his uselessness as a sailor or soldier. He had no desire to be good at either so felt no shame in this fact.
For a while he had been happy. He imagined himself with Bijirita, the younger sister of Bizma, the wife of Juan Grande. A pretty little thing, her eyes always seemed to sparkle when she saw him. They would have a little house with plenty of food and pulque to hand with almost no work, perhaps a few children.
Soon he realized her eyes sparkled for every man she would talk to, and wasn’t overly surprised when she rebuffed his advances with a sweet laugh, not unfriendly, but definitely conveying that he would have no luck there.
He longed to be back home in Pamplona, where his father’s status imparted a little respect his way. He had a vague plan and hope to collect as much gold as possible for himself while awaiting Colón’s return, and took to wandering further and yet further afield, looking for free gold in the bottom of the numerous streams as they reached the flat land at the base of the mountains heading east from Navidad. To the west the ground was too marshy for easy travel.
He never found any, in fact scarcely knew what to look for, expecting small robin egg sized gold stones to be under a waterfall or between small boulders. But, as with all looking for easy riches, hope springs eternal. His search and faith took him over the next hill, to the next creek, always looking in eager anticipation for the gleam of gold.
Colón was even now making landfall, and Juan Chica would not have long to wait to be reunited with his admiral.
Chapter 42) Guadalupe Island
“We have arrived at your future Franco” announced Father Pané, as early the next morning the cry of land sighted came. We had had no opportunity to speak with Colón about his meeting as he trudged on deck, his knees still giving him trouble, but his wink to me as he passed on his way to the bow assured me that all had gone well.
We were close into the land already. The tremendous amount of activity and maneuvering for a landing within the hour assured me I would not speak directly with the Admiral until much later.
The Mariagallante would drop anchor in the bay just to the north. There was evidence that humans had just vacated the beach, probably when they espied our ships with the coming dawn as backdrop. A few cook fires were still smoldering and some uprights of a shelter had been left behind in their haste.
Our small boat was lowered and Colón, Father Pané, the two young lieutenants, along with a contingent of twelve soldiers were soon landed.
With ninety persons on board looking on, and another eleven hundred souls anxiously waiting beyond the bay, Father Pané said a thanksgiving mass. After sharing Holy Communion, Colón claimed the island in the name of their Catholic Majesties, naming it Domenica, for the Christian Sabbath day when we landed. This was a tiny island, and the family whose camp we had come across were seen to be headed north in a canoe.
Once again on ship, Colón decided we would follow the canoe northward to where a larger island could be descried just on the horizon.
A scant hour’s travel and we landed on the eastern side of that island, in a large bay that would accommodate all the ships. Even though facing the Atlantic, the bay was well sheltered. There was a large stream entering into the bay where we could refill all our casks. Colón sent the two lieutenants again, along with twelve soldiers, inland to attempt contact with the locals and then returned to shipboard with Father Pané.
Scarcely had Colón climbed aboard when there was a volley of gunfire from several hundred yards to the west. Colón immediately sent another score of soldiers to support the twelve already on shore. As they landed, the original dozen, along with the two lieutenants and two native youths, broke from the trees in an organized retreat.
After a short conference on shore, one of the lieutenants, with six oarsmen and the two youths, rowed out to the Mariagallante. The remaining lieutenant organized the remaining men into a defense in case of attack.
Chapter 43) Lieutenant’s Description
Out of breath from his exertions, the lieutenant described what they had encountered…
“There is an encampment of about three hundred fighters just beyond the trees,” he began, “with many hundreds of captives being held in pens. The captives appear to be all women and children, these two among the oldest of remaining males we saw” he said, indicating the two youngsters.
This exchange took place on the main deck, with sailors crowding around from the front and fore-castle, the sailors’ exclamations and questions beginning to drown out further conversation. Colón’s booming voice commanded them to silence. Ushering the lieutenant and boys up the stairs to the rear or aft deck, he continued to get the report from his man.
During the whole exchange, the two youths, perhaps ten years of age, continued in excited unintelligible jabbering and exhortations. Fortuitously, Nigari had remained on the aft deck from where he and his cousin, Guadalupe, had been watching the morning’s events. Guadalupe had gone below when the boat had begun its return from shore.
Raising his eyebrows questioningly, Nigari silently asked Colón if he might be of assistance. With a silent nod of assent from Colón, Nigari commanded the youths to silence. Only a few years older, Nigari spoke with authority and was able to get a clear picture of the situation on the island.
“This is a Caribe raiding encampment,” Nigari began. These Arawak captives come from the chain of islands running off to the north and west, mostly Borikén (Puerto Rico) fifty miles distant, and are being held here to be exchanged when the trading canoes come from the south. Many of the youngest men not killed in battle have been ritualistically killed, butchered and eaten, although several hundred still remained. These young boys were about to be castrated, as many before them, to be held in cages and fattened, for future use.” concluded Nigari.
After a pause the lieutenant explained that, seeing these castrations taking place, his men had fired on the Caribe, killing the knife-wielding priest and his assistant. They were only able to grab these remaining two youths when the Caribe, with their menacing war clubs and vastly superior numbers, began to press back in. With one more shot into a more daring Caribe momentarily halting them, the soldiers gained the few moments necessary to return to the beach.
Because of the ideal location of the bay, and considering our superior numbers and firepower, Colón decided we would stop here. It had only been 3 weeks since we left the Canary Islands, but the sailors were ready to be on land, and the livestock could stand some grazing. We would wait until we had a sufficient force landed, of course, before further contact with the Indios and before the livestock would be loosed.
Guacanagari was still smoking and contemplating the events of this past month when Lliago, Alonzo and Mateo arrived. He continued to watch the children, especially Cassia. Their ability to bounce back was remarkable, he thought. This past month has been so full of violence, death and upheaval, and yet, here they were, playing in the surf seemingly without a care in the world.
He thought of the distant cousins and family that had been put to death. Nobility or Nitiano that were unwilling to conform to the new order of things had formed small armies to attempt to protect their homes and way of life.
Cuan’s warriors had easily swept all aside, with the worst of these ‘rebel’ Nitiano ceremoniously being put to death in the ball court.
There was also retribution by the Naborias, some of the working class that felt they had suffered unreasonably due to the Nitiano excesses. Their violence against the Nitiano had resulted in many more deaths until Cuan’s warriors put a stop to this vengeance as well.
His thoughts drifted to his young son Nigari, and lovely niece Guancaa in the hands of Colón. He did not spend a moment wishing the Hispanic had never come, he had not the luxury to waste such time.
And from what he had been told by the two Basque soldiers, Lliago and Juan, the late fall is when he could expect the return of the Spanish, fall being the best sailing weather from Cadiz, Hispania. He must be prepared to meet this challenge.
With the arrival of Cuan, Allemanda, and his chief captains, Guacanagari began. “We must prepare for the worst, as we will only have one chance to get this right.” he stated. “If Colón has two hundred, three hundred… six hundred soldiers with their armor and firearms, and they are allowed to get among us and prepared, we will be helpless. Even with ten thousand warriors we could not hope to defeat them. We have used the element of surprise to destroy many Caribe raiding parties, and they seem to have decided to leave us alone for now. But that threat is not gone, it only waits for us to be less vigilant, or for them to come up with another plan. Similarly, if we simply drive the Hispanics away, they will just be another threat hovering just out of reach, like a voracious shark off our shores. I do not intend my people to live this way, like cowering animals awaiting slaughter. On our side we have two hundred highly skilled and dedicated warriors, we have thousands that can be some-what trained over the next moon or two. We have your six canon with plenty of shot as well as the hand held firearms.” he said looking at Lliago.
“How do we utilize what we have to defeat this enemy?”
From the Basque point of view when considering Colón and the Hispanic Monarchs, their land of Navarre in the north of Hispania was only nominally controlled by Ferdinand. This was their homeland. The Basque themselves, for the most part, were hostile to this imposed rule, although they continued to trade much with Aragon and Castile. Navarre was one of a handful of kingdoms that resisted the Moorish invasion of the eighth century forward on the peninsula, as well as the Frankish invasion from the northeast. With their own language and customs, quite different from Aragon and Castile that surrounded them, the Basque had no national or natural loyalty at all to the Catholic Monarchs, or Colón for that matter.
To plan for the common defense with the Taino against the coming invasion was natural, cemented by marriages between the groups, and their fighting together as brothers in arms.
“I believe Guacanagari is absolutely correct. This is just the vanguard of the Arike invasion of our home,” stated Lliago des Champs, surprising even himself by referring to Marién as his home and Arike, or enemy, to describe the coming Europeans. “We must utterly defeat Colón, ideally with none escaping to tell the tale back in Sevilla.”
The Arike were now only several hundred miles away, on an island in the same sea.
Chapter 45) Franco’s Plan Go Awry
How did everything change so dramatically in just one day?
Colón had told his captains of the plan to continue on to Cathay and the Spice Islands, and how, by adding Northern Europe to the return journey, they could realize a better return than anticipated while leaving the native workforce in place for sugar production. As compared to the one time profit of human cargo, it was significantly higher and ongoing. Further, it would not risk the anger of the Catholic Monarchs They had agreed to his new plan, some enthusiastically, others reluctantly.
Franco had made very concise and dispassionate arguments in his reports, treating the slaves to be transported in his wording as a simple commodity, the deaths of nearly 40% of these poor souls as he might “spoilage” of a crop in transport. He had dealt with enough merchants in Colón’s search for investors, along with their written estimates for potential profits, that he had a fairly good understanding of this language and the proper wording to use.
…at an average finished value of nineteen maravedis each, the Portuguese would only pay twelve, as they would be selling them throughout the Mediterranean and carrying all the holding and transportation costs.
…Transporting two hundred units, with “spoilage “of forty percent was based on Colóns initial transport of the thirty nine Indios and their survival rate.
…There would also be the transport costs of their own, crew costs, food, wear on the ships etc…
Suddenly their easy two thousand maravedis, with which they would be wealthy men, was cut to six hundred more or less, of which Colón would be receiving sixty right off the top.
Franco was sure this would dampen the ardor of those pushing slavery of the Indios.
These arguments were all but forgotten the next day...
There had been several skirmishes or contacts during the afternoon and evening. Small groups of the Indios would begin to peer at the landing Hispanics, with their cattle and horses. A group of young warriors had advanced on the men tending some of the cattle. They had been driven off with two being slain by the soldier’s long guns and one being wounded. Although only a graze along the hip, the youth was so stunned and disoriented by the noise, fire and the blow, that he was quickly captured and brought before Colón and his captains. At one point while they began to question the youth, a larger group gathered up the beach and began to advance towards the Spanish.
The Gallega, the other large Nau or Ship, had been anchored to give its cannons cover of the curved sand up and down the beach with no other ships in the way. At Colóns command the seven starboard cannons sent grape shot into this group at one hundred yards, mowing them down as a giant scythe cutting through dry wheat.
With Nigari to translate, it was learned that there were nearly fifteen hundred captives on the island, many awaiting transport to another nation from the land to the southwest. There were still around four hundred men, as well as eleven hundred women and children.
There were also around three hundred Caribe warriors guarding these captives, although fewer now from the destruction loosed by the cannons, as well as a large canoe being sent off to the northeast, with fifty strong paddlers, perhaps to carry warning or get reinforcements.
At dusk, the youth was released. He was instructed to tell the Chief of these Caribe that he was commanded to parley with Colón in the morning. Otherwise, the soldiers, with their firearms would begin to annihilate the whole tribe. Having witnessed the destructive power of the canon, neither the youth, nor many members of the tribe who had witnessed the slaughter, would need much convincing.
Chapter 46) Flight of Caribe
Colón was up long before dawn, and so was ready for his scout’s early morning report on board the Mariagallante. There was a wave of tumult and excitement that had begun on shore was quickly approaching, and Colón, waking from a fevered sleep, and stumping around on his two badly swollen legs, had already begun to open his cabin door when his Captain, La Cosa, along with the breathless scout ,announced that the island and the captives were theirs.
My heart dropped to the floor on this news. I, as well as all the captains, had already calculated the value of these humans the day before. I had hoped the plan Colon had laid out only two nights past would hold.
However, with no effort, a fortune of human cargo had been delivered into the hands of these fiends. The open greed and hunger in their eyes fairly shone as talk immediately ran to unloading the cargo in the seven ships dedicated to livestock and the return to Portugal. Overnight, every captain had been made rich beyond expectations, potentially making more profit in these five weeks since leaving Hispana than most merchants or traders would make in a lifetime.
The most hopeful of the group had thought to return to Portugal with two hundred or so captives in the late spring. With this continuing fine weather, many now spoke openly of being home and wealthy in just two months. Had Colón wanted to, I am not sure even he could have controlled this mob. Every sailor down to the lowest cook’s assistant would have a share in the profits.
But the light in Colón’s fevered eyes made clear that he had no intention of fighting this tide. Every argument of how he had rescued these poor heathens from death, how God had delivered them into his hand, how these barbarous wretches would now have the opportunity to live in Christian lands would be used to bowl over any opposition Pané or me could voice.
47) Hispaniola- Astilla and Salvador
A small dugout canoe entered the bay one evening in late September. Lliago had all but forgotten Captain Martinez, Astilla and Salvador, who had left Navidad in search of the making of gunpowder, as well as lead almost six months past.
Salvador could hardly be recognized as he gingerly disembarked the canoe and shambled towards Lliago. Although clearly done in after his voyage, his clothes now mere rags hanging from his body, Lliago sensed that the gunner had thrived. He appeared a much leaner, stronger and perhaps even younger version of the man that had left camp last spring.
The two were soon surrounded and overwhelmed by other compatriots, grasping Salvador’s hand or slapping him on the back in comradery. Slowly but surely, Salvador’s story would come out. It was not until the next morning that Lliago had the complete picture.
Captain Martinez had acted as an anchor around the neck of the two sailors from the outset. Their first camp was just over three miles from Navidad. Sitting on a downed tree as camp was made, a haggard and subdued Martinez announced that he had decided to return to Navidad in the morning.
Surprisingly though, after a night’s rest and a large meal, Martinez was ready to press on.
The path was very clear, but steep. The Taino guides had spoken of caves and fissures towards the peaks that were sacred to the Taino, and where many of their forebearers were buried. There were also caves filled with bats and, presumably bat guano, from which saltpeter could be extracted.
In discussions with Cuan, Lliago had gathered several possible sites for sulfur. Although difficult to communicate in exact terms, Lliago was able to get the idea of hot water springs with a bad smell across to Cuan, as well as describe the yellow sediment or stone that might surround the springs or volcanic vents. Much of the information regarding gunpowder and its necessary ingredients came from Fra Alonzo, and Lliago looked at him sideways, wondering where a man of peace would come across such information.
“You might be amazed at the books and manuscripts to be found in a monastery, and reading and cataloging all works were part of a Brother’s responsibility … and somehow,” he added ruefully, “blowing things up has held an unhealthy fascination for me. The thunder of a canon’s discharge hurling a fist-sized projectile at one thousand feet per second is, embarrassingly, music to my ears. Just wait until I describe the exploding pomegranates!”
There were several of these areas that happened to be close to the caves where large numbers of bats were, and so both items, sulfur and saltpeter, might be obtainable within two days’ journey of Navidad. Lliago had hoped for a few weeks’ reprieve from the troublesome captain, but it would also be handy to find a source of materials close by.
Although the guides could not understand him, it was perfectly clear their youthful pair had no use, and less patience with Martinez and his constant whining and barking of orders. They continued on perhaps twenty paces ahead, laughing and talking in musical voices. They referred to Martinez as Manatee, their word for the huge sea cow that lived along their coast.
Although Martinez assumed it to be a title of respect, the two seamen knew what the boys were referring to and had trouble holding in their own mirth. Different from well-trained soldiers of an organized army, ready to die for King and Country, these Basque seamen were little more than foreigners in the lands of Isabella and Ferdinand. They had no reason for loyalty or even tolerance of Martinez, Colón, the Monarchs or anyone other than their family and close shipmates. This ‘Grand Journey’ was merely a means to earn money to support themselves and their loved ones.
With all in the group having been born and having spent the majority of their life at sea level, they were constantly short of breath. Some of the peaks were above 10,000 feet, with the path they were on now approaching 9,000 feet. While the guides would carry tools and supplies for the elder Salvador and Astilla, they refused to help Martinez in any fashion, laughing merrily when the captain would struggle over rocks or windfalls.
The second evening the group camped just beyond the smell of some sulfurous springs encountered shortly before sunset. Because it would get cold quickly at this altitude, and because Captain Martinez was completely done in, Salvador decided to wait until morning to collect and test samples. He was quite sure however, that they had located sufficient sulfur for all of their possible gunpowder needs.
From there, the youths let them know through signs and a few understood words that the guano caves were quite near.
Martinez was practically silent, continuing to suck in great gulps of air long after they had stopped for the evening. At one point he walked away from camp and could be heard retching in the bushes. It was telling that no one from camp checked on his well-being, and barely glanced at him when he straggled back into camp. He again took his seat, his back against a fallen tree root system that had fallen in a storm some years in the past. His face was pale and had a damp clammy, bluish grey aspect to it.
Astillo, a kinder gentler soul, offered Martinez a water skin, which Martinez took a few swallows from, and a hunk of hard bread, which Martinez weakly swatted from his hand. Observing the five minute rule, Astillo retrieved the bread, brushed the twigs and leaves from it and began to methodically chew it while glancing at Martinez, trying to judge the seriousness of his malady.
Salvador visited with the younger of the Taino youths. Neither understood the other, but both enjoyed the game. Through pantomime, demonstration and laughter, each was learning a few words from the other, much to the annoyance of Martinez. The mutual contempt for Martinez gave them a rich subject to try their talents on. Somehow the idea of altitude sickness was communicated, and Salvador let Astillo know that Martinez would recover once they descended from the peaks.
It was decided that Martinez would rest in camp the following day. The two Basque, with the older Taino, who they nicknamed Umbre for his dark look, would visit the sulfur springs and, time permitting, the guano caves. The younger Taino, nicknamed Niño, would go down the mountain for some herbs that would settle Martinez, and some broth from an outlying Taino home for nourishment for the captain. Although each felt a small pang of guilt for leaving Martinez on his own, none felt it strong enough to stay with the miserable creature.
Next Chapter 48) Back with Colón
It was nowhere near as easy as the captains and admiral had imagined.
There were a few who had witnessed, even participated in the slave markets of Africa, but most were stunned by the squalor and starvation of the captives here. Fenced into small areas like so much cattle, the same disease that had affected the Niña’s crew seemed to be present among some of the Arawak. These were carefully culled into their own area, with other family members allowed to attend them. The Hispanicss, having witnessed the horrific effects of the disease on the crew of the Niña, where most had perished, attempted to have no contact with these.
Feeding another thousand mouths was a daunting problem. The Atlantic crossing, fortunately, was quite rapid, and so there was abundant food stores still available. Feeding this multitude now while maintaining rations for the voyage home, was the puzzle.
Although dispirited, disappointed and incensed, I could not stand by and watch while women and children were dropping from hunger, and so I jumped in to help with the food situation. While feeling miserable for helping facilitate the enslavement of these natives, I saw no other option.
Although still quite young, I was surprised to find the group, including Colón, considering and implementing many of my ideas. The reluctance to sacrifice a large number of the cattle was overcome when I reminded them that they would soon be in Portugal again where cattle were plentiful and cheap. Disgusted with myself, I pointed out the relative value of these slaves to the value of a few cows, and the cattle were slaughtered
My father had often mentioned the fact that in a leadership vacuum, where no one quite knew what to do or which way to turn, a man could rise to prominence simply by displaying confidence and a reasonable plan.
Soon, at my direction, a dozen cook fires were blazing away, with a gruel made of the grain that was to have fed these beeves, mixed with their blood and fried into cakes. There would be nothing wasted. The captive women, not realizing the fate that now awaited them, were so thankful for their salvation from the Caribe, that they joined in helping distribute the food, first to the elders and small children, the men, and lastly themselves.
In the meantime, the beef had been sliced thin for quick grilling and was also portioned out. Although all were half-starved, their patience and care in making sure all were fed was heartwarming. Both men and women alike were very attentive of the children and aged.
Astonished and amazed at the menagerie of unknown animals, dozens of Arawak youths were helping herd the cattle, horses, sheep and goats, from the beach where they were landed to a lush pasture land a half league inland. Fed by a shallow river, with grasses belly high to the horses, the animals were easily managed once they were there. There were neither predators nor poisonous insects to worry them.
With dozens of Arawak employed now in fishing, and dozens of the men pitching in to help unload the ship, singing a sort of chant with a chorus shouted by one of the group, and a refrain from the rest, the bay was now a joyful harmonious celebration.
When Colón grew nervous from the interplay between the two peoples, and the apparent lack of order and discipline, I pointed out that the tasks and challenges that seemed daunting, if not impossible as the day began, were well on their way to completion. I went on to point out that the small island itself served as a cage of sorts, and that the weaponless naked natives were no match for the armored and armed Hispanic soldier..
Astonishing the range of emotions one can go through in rapid succession or, perhaps even simultaneously. My disgust with the captains and Colón at their wanton, naked greed, vied with my awe of them. Once a plan was established, their ability to get their soldiers and sailors into an organized and efficient force was astonishing. My loathing turning to appreciation of the Europeans as a whole, as their disgust and fear of these destitute people in their squalor, changing in time to pity and, perhaps even, a measure of respect and perhaps even warmth as they began to work together. My own self-loathing for not taking a strong stand against Colón and his captains, even though I realized it would have done nothing to help, was in opposition to my pride at the relief I was able to give the natives and at the respect given me by my people. Yet finally, most strongly, was the despair I felt as I was helping lead them, unwittingly and joyfully, down the path to their own enslavement.
What was Nigari thinking as he helped translate, and communicate with these people? Not of his Cacicazgos, but they were certainly of the same ancestors. Although younger than I, he seemed somehow wiser and more self-assured. Surely he must understand what was happening. He had seen first-hand what had befallen his own people while ‘guests’ of the Hispanic Crown.
And what of Guadalupe I desired so much to impress…
At her lead, and with the assistance of Father Pané, a number of the Arawak healers began to minister to the Hispanic sailors of the Niña who were still ill and had been brought ashore. A shaded area had been created using spare sail material between the trees. The few ill Arawak were grouped with these and a clear clean space was created, everyone being kept clean and cool.
A salve was plastered on the remaining open sores made from a succulent that grew on the island. Wholesome broths were prepared, and soon all were fed and resting comfortably. Because the weakest of both groups had already passed, improvement in this group seemed rapid. Out of the fetid air of the ship, with fresh air, meals suited to their state and a positive outlook for the sailors seemed to turn the tide for a few of them. Escape from the Caribe and the ministrations of their healers, was all that was needed for the ill Arawak.
Guadalupe used a term I had thought to mean grandmother when speaking with these healers, but appeared to be interchangeable with caregiver. At such a young age, the deference these elders paid her was astonishing, each task she asked of them being performed with alacrity. Already a leader, she seemed a different person from the quiet shy girl he had met just two nights before over dinner with Colón and the captains. Perhaps it was similar to my situation. These women just needed someone with authority to mobilize them and shake them from the stupor their Caribe captivity had reduced them to.
Pané seemed to chuckle softly, as he observed me, observing Guadalupe, but tried to cover his, I almost believe, pleasure, by comparing the relative results of the disease on the two populations.
Pané noted, “All start with the same bite marks. The Arawak seem to get fever and chills, and some smaller pustules that heal within a few days’ time. They mostly recover within a fortnight. More than half the Hispanics, so far however, have expired within days, the sores of the survivors lasting months, and full recovery never seen.”
In the midst of all that illness, of all the work done, and all that needed doing, I was still able to notice how fine Guadalupe’s ear was, peeking out of the black hair she tried continually, yet unsuccessfully, to wrap behind it, to pay much attention to Pané’s words, which seemed to cause him more mirth. This caused Guadalupe to dart sharp angry glances at us both. Her dark flashing eyes seemed to say, “If you are not here to help… leave!”
I inwardly cringed and began to slink away, cursing Pané silently. Pané’s words would register with me later, however, as my mind reviewed the day before I fell asleep late into that evening. Why was the disease affecting but a few of the natives, and not so severely, while it was so terribly deadly for the sailors of Colon?
Chapter 49) With the materials needed to supply Navidad with all the gunpowder they might need so close to hand, Astillo and Salvador were all for returning the short way back to the settlement.
Martinez was much improved after a few days rest however. Umbre and Martinez had somehow communicated on Umbre’s return with food and medicines and Martinez was convinced that just a day’s journey to the east were the rich ore mines where the Taino found the material for their ornaments. As they were currently on the highest point of the trail, he imagined an easy stroll downhill to what would be a fountain of gold that would make him both a hero and a rich man.
Umbre’s cousins had stopped by camp with a wealth of food. Roasted fowl, a type of duck native to the islands, manioc bread, also called cassava bread, and papas were accompanied by several varieties of fruit.
The cassava bread formed a plate of sorts, and eaten with a paste of the aguacate was delicious. Astillo followed Umbre’s example and folded some of the duck meat in with the aguacate and savored this fine meal.
Martinez, surprisingly, ate like a ravenous animal. From being violently ill and close to death a few days before, Martinez greedily devoured one of the birds, tossing the bones from his greasy fingers into the brush, bolted down some of the bread and was soon back to his peremptory and magisterial self. Sitting back against a fallen tree with bits of duck and bread in his greasy beard and further despoiling his already filthy pantaloons by wiping his greasy fingers, he began to pontificate his plans.
Being both lazy and stupid, Martinez assumed there must be huge deposits of easily extracted gold. Because the ornaments of the Taino were almost all of copper, very few being of gold, Astillo guessed correctly that they would find copper deposits instead. He had been thinking on how to build a smelter where this metal could be used to produce projectiles for both the firearms and the cannon and so reluctantly agreed that it would be worth exploring.
However, because the deposits were in the cacicazgos of the neighboring Taino, and considering the abrasive manner of Martinez, Astillo saw a huge potential for problems. He gathered from Umbre that their group might not be welcome. In fact, Umbre let Astillo know that he and his companion would only bring them to the edge of Guacanagari's cacicazgos, but would point out the mines location only a few hours past this border if they chose to go on.
Astillo argued that he could quickly accomplish this side trip while Martinez, Salvador and Umbre returned to Navidad. The return trip could be easily accomplished by evening being only a ten mile trek downhill. Martinez, already counting his riches, seemed to infer that Astillo was trying to steal both his wealth and glory and decreed they would all continue on. This small detour might prove fatal to Martinez and cause months of hardship for his two companions.
As the three Hispanics made their way down the slope into Magua territory to visit the mines, the two Taino headed northwest back to Marién. Efforts to dissuade Captain Martinez proving fruitless, Astillo and Salvador were bound to accompany him. Niño and Sombre, however, had been strictly prohibited by Guacanagari from crossing over. No amount of curses or threats from Martinez would change their minds.
The mountain ranges all ran southeast to northwest and the group was headed on a relatively steep but clear trail down the hill northeastwards. Between trees, the scar of the mining operation, though small, could be seen in the ground across the river in the valley bottom. This was the spot pointed out by the Taino youths from the ridge above, the location of the mine where the yellow metal came from. They were perhaps two miles distant as the daylight began to fade.
They were taking a brief rest in a small level glen overlooking the valley, Salvador began to suggest they camp for the night when Martinez, abandoning his pack and supplies, began walking down the hill at a fast walk, stumbling to a shuffling run down the steep slope.
Astillo was completely done in, so Salvador bade him wait and took after the captain.
As Martinez, in a fever to see the mine, reached the shallow river, four men came around the bend in the trail to confront him, the leader leveling him with a back hand swipe of his war club. Salvador saw a large clump of hair and a spray of blood erupt from the captain’s head as it was clove, even as he veered off the trail hoping he hadn’t been noticed.
Too much blood, Martinez was clearly dead. Salvador began to ease his way back up the slope, holding to the deep trees as darkness fell. Twenty yards along he decided to hold still so as to make no noise and wait for the night sounds to help cover his retreat.
He and Astillo would spend the next five weeks dodging the Taino warriors as they were driven farther into the mountains and away from their companions.
Chapter 50) Colón’s Illness
After three days of nearly ceaseless work, Colón was once again struck down by high fever and chills. The swelling in his joints had been bothering him all day, and he had to be ingloriously hoisted back on board the Mariagallante like cargo in the sling that had been devised for loading and unloading livestock.
The captains had been required to join Colón each evening to discuss their progress in the various goals to be met before some of the ships could return to Portugal with their captives. The Indios were starting to become increasingly agitated, as their questions concerning their return to Borikén, their home, remained unanswered.
With Colón incapacitated, the captains were left to discuss this development themselves. Further, after improvement in the health of the Niña crew, dozens of Sailors began to display the telltale bite marks and black sores that seemed to appear at the onset of this deadly malady.
And if twenty five or thirty were displaying their wounds, there were sure to be twice that many hiding their sores for fear of being separated from their fellows and damned to be held almost as a prisoner until they died.
Six of the eight ships, planned for the quick return trip to Portugal, were outfitted and provisioned awaiting only the loading of the Arawak captives. The remaining two would be ready in the next few days, and the eight captains were desperate to leave before the disease began to infect their crews, who were being kept isolated on board.
After three triumphant days of success it seemed all was quickly unravelling. Two hundred forty sailors had a ticket home, a quick passage back to the Azores, Portugal and back to their homes with wealth that might not go far in Lisbon or Seville, but would set them up nicely in their towns or villages.
They would be expected to return immediately to rejoin Colón, and many of the more adventuresome would. There was a good percentage however, who felt they had been dodging death since leaving Cadiz. With over forty deaths from disease and sixty more cases beginning, as well as Colón‘s health and leadership in question, they would quickly melt away once they reached Lisbon.
The six hundred plus sailors being left behind were not happy. Many fights broke out between those staying and those that wished to trade places. Some were offering up to half of their share of the voyage’s profit to exchange, others using threats and physical violence to secure a berth on a returning boat, another reason for keeping the returning crews isolated shipboard. There were about two hundred well-armed soldiers, but they were hard-pressed to keep order.
Two of the captains, Gutierrez and Gallardo, who had applauded my scheme of making profits strictly through trade and had reminded all of the Catholics Monarchs’ prohibitions against enslaving the natives, had formed a group apart, and a knowing glance or whisper between the two alerted me that something was also brewing there.
Colón, now in complete agony of body and soul, had summoned Father Pané and myself to his quarters. We were both stunned and appalled at his appearance. The physician had his legs propped up on pillows, above the level of his body to try and relieve some of the swelling. As the physician changed the soaked gauze and poultices being used in an attempt to soothe the ache, his knees appeared three times their size and were an incredible angry red. The comparison to his pallid pasty sweat-drenched face was astonishing and frightening.
It was clear Colón was delirious in fever and pain, and further compromised by some concoction or other the physician had employed, perhaps milk of the poppy or bleeding. He would rant about mutiny and treason one minute, and curses and retribution from God the next. I excused myself to let the captains know that Colón would not be ready until morning to meet with them, and admonished them, in Colón’s name, to keep things in order until them.
We are, all of us, a product of our environment. My father was very scientific in his thinking and had no patience for the idea of curses or fate. He had seen both so much good and evil ascribed to God’s will, or direct intervention, that he had no patience for such “superstition and ignorance” as he called it. However, my mother, and to a large extent my brothers, under the guidance of our local priest, were full of all the superstition and mysticism of our time.
A combination of both, I had a real problem with seeing all the misery and brutality I had witnessed in the past few months, or the stories of plague and famine I had heard, as being part of a beneficent God’s grand plan. I could easily imagine, however, that the current illness, affecting the Hispanic crew with deadly effect, while barely touching the Indio, was a direct punishment and retribution for disobeying both God and his representatives, the Catholic Monarchs. Colón’s affliction and pain came under the same.
As Colón mercifully drifted off to sleep, Pané chose to stay with the Admiral a bit longer and urged me to get some rest myself. I was anxious to look in on Guadalupe, and escort her back to the ship. As discipline had begun to breakdown, the idea of her walking through the camp unattended was weighing on me.
As I reached the deck, the first thing I saw was her angry, fiery eyes shooting daggers at me. She had just come on board and was rearranging her skirts from her trip in the sling. We stared at each other silently for a moment, then tears welled in her eyes as she rushed into my surprised arms, sobbing violently. “Where were you?” she asked accusingly, beating my chest with both her tiny fists before melting into me once more.
Chapter 51) Guadalupe Returns to Ship
Father Pané had had the foresight to send ten armed soldiers to escort Lupe back to the ship, stretching the facts a little to infer that it was at the command of Colón. At first she was furious with Sarafin, captain of the guard, unleashing a flow of what must have been Taino curses upon him for dragging her away from her sick patients then, alternately begging him to have his men bring more fresh water and bedding .
Ultimately the elder Arawak healers brought her to the realization that her refusal to return with the soldiers and the turmoil she was creating would perhaps be more harmful to the sick than any good she might do them at this point.
It was only as they marched back towards the launch that she became aware of the riotous state of the camp. Numerous barrels of wine had somehow made their way onshore, with cup after cup being distributed to the out of control sailors. Her anger quickly turned to confusion, then fear as she now saw that a safe return to the Mariagallante was not assured.
Her guards travelled a circuitous route, avoiding the larger fires and rowdier knots of men, making it to the launch with little more damage than rude catcalls and hurled insults.
Over three hundred Arawak had been wedged into the holds of the ships, convinced that they were being taken back to Borikén, their home island. Their suspicions at being chosen and then herded on board, rather than choosing for themselves who should be the first to leave, was more than balanced by a desire to be home at any cost. They were more than willing victims.
The anger of those remaining sailors, being left behind to sicken and die on this god-forsaken island, had just started to boil. It began to sound like the target of this anger might be the remaining Arawak who obviously were the cause of the disease. The Arawak had migrated to the far side of the island as night began to settle.
The tide was just entering slack when the eight ships weighed anchor. They had dropped their small boats and the sailors bent their backs to the oars to begin edging the ships away from shore. Typically they would have waited an hour for the strong ebb tide to do the work for them, but the feeling that order was disintegrating rapidly on shore impelled the group to move more quickly. The sailors, anxious themselves to be away from the sickness and madness, needed no urging to pull with a will. The calls and jeers from shore of their angry counterparts being left behind gave them any needed additional incentive. Interestingly, sailors were notoriously bad swimmers, so there was little fear of interference from them unless they got a hold of some ship’s boats. The only ones available seemed to be employed with transferring spirits and food from the Triana, whose captain seemed to have lost all control of his vessel.
Just two cable lengths out the ships began to set sail, even as they retrieved their boats and crews and, one by one skimmed by the north end of the bay, running out to open water. The Galician, the other large Nao ground heavily across the sand bar that ran out from the shore, raising in the swell and at one point slamming violently down as the receding tide and wave dropped her 10 feet or more. The stern ground noisily as the bow was wrenched around, but floated free with the next incoming swell, caught the breeze fully and shot away. This rush to leave, to the point of endangering their boats added to the frenzy and panic on shore, but did provide a distraction as Lupe was hoisted aboard.
Chapter 52) Guadalupe
I am but fourteen summers, a young girl on board a ship of ninety men, with a riot taking place a few hundred yards away on shore. I remind myself that I am a princess of the Taino, and must act accordingly.
How to describe the day, or even the feelings and emotions of the last few hours...
In outward composure I always try to emulate my mother, the eldest sister of the Cacique Guacanagari. Her calm stoicism in the face of trial, her simple look of gratitude and inner happiness when things went well, without great shows of emotion seemed so much more regal than the flashes of anger, or boisterous laughter, great demonstrations of emotion by my uncle, the Cacique.
The almost unbearable sadness at seeing the plight of our cousins the Arawak, as well as the ill sailors struck down with fever, was quite a blow and I felt tears begin to well. With fierce determination, as my mother had shown me, I turned this overwhelming sadness into action. With short snappish commands, I compelled persons older and perhaps wiser, to various necessary steps, and soon had a system in place to help these unfortunates.
For the Christian, we often seemed able only to ease their passing, while the Arawak were quickly showing signs of improvement. If I had given into the sadness, given in to the weeping and wailing that was in my soul, I would have not accomplished anything of value.
I followed this day of worthy achievement, however, with my outburst of distress and anger at the captain of the guard for pulling me away from these poor invalids. This accomplished nothing and I embarrassed myself and all Taino in front of the Arawak healers. They would certainly not show me the same courtesy and respect tomorrow after such a childish loss of dignity.
Then, finally, in my weakness in the face of these Hispanic Arìke, these foreign invaders and their barbarous actions on shore… I gave into my fear. This caused me great anger with myself! Once I saw the relief in the face of Franco on seeing my safe return, and perhaps a flicker of disappointment, all these waring emotions, overwhelmed me and I completely broke down. After this handsome and strong friend, the only one that I hoped to impress, comforted me, I was led to bed by my brother. Franco and brother are even now camped outside my door, guarding me in my shame and humiliation. I am not sure how I will face any of them on the morrow.
Chapter 53) Franco- Guadalupe returns to ship.
Shamefully, I wept some in my relief, but was able to successfully hide the few tears in Lupe’s dark and curly tresses. I had composed myself, and in the semi-darkness was sure that no one had noticed my distress.
With so much change and turmoil in the last few days, how had this Taino princess, little more than a child, come to dominate all my thoughts?
My worst fears for the voyage had come to pass seemingly overnight, from the triumph of Colón’s adopting the ideas of Pané and myself just a few nights past to the treacherous enslavement of a whole people. Starvation averted, disease, and finally this riotous mutiny…through it all thoughts of her quiet dignity as she charmed the captains at dinner, the shape of her hand on my arm as we walked the deck just a few nights past, her incredible, almost cold strength in dealing with the ill sailors and Arawak. Through it all thoughts of her dominated.
My father’s amusement at the astonishing number of my ‘true loves’ these past few years, my mother’s warnings against the intrigues of women, these had no impact on these feelings for a girl I barely knew existed a few days before. I could only laugh at myself.
As I sat outside her door with Nigari, listening to the sounds of the mob onshore, I reflected on the past few hours.
In all we now had fifty-two well-armed men on board. The arms of the other ships were safely stored or in the hands of trusted soldiers, with the exception of the Triana. As there had been no shots fired to repel the looting sailors on board, it was assumed that they were either securely locked away or, more likely, in the hands of the marauders.
A cable’s length, about six hundred feet from shore, we were quite secure in the Mariagallante. With canon loaded with grapeshot at the bow, an approaching boat would be at the mercy of the great ship. Only a few sailors knew how to swim and the gliding shadows of shark seen by all in these waters would make a night swim very unlikely.
My overwhelming feeling of relief and joy at seeing Lupe safe and aboard was marred somewhat in my mind. A small, but very real part of the relief was the fact that I did not have to rush ashore into that mob of dangerous and unpredictable fiends. Oh, I surely would have braved it to go after Lupe, but was my relief not a sign of some form of cowardice? Should I not have been thrilled at the opportunity to play the knight errant and come to her rescue? Was my comfort at being surrounded by fifty armed “protectors” not further proof of a shy, timid personality trait?
Once again my father’s words returned to give me comfort.
“Sitting in this warm salon at home, with a full belly, a little wine and ten feet of wall around us, it is quite easy to imagine being brave,” he began one evening years ago.
He then spoke at length of the legendary but very real Norse warriors called berserkers. Fearless, they would engage in battle against an overwhelming foe, overwhelming odds, winning the fight through blind fury and relentless attack, and a blind belief in their own invulnerability.
He compared this to a young Moorish page, whose master lay unconscious on the field of battle. Swarmed by five mounted Christian warriors brandishing huge broadswords the quaking, openly weeping page stood his ground, hoping to protect his master with only a broken bit of lance. As one, the horsemen halted, surrounding the youth. After a few moments to take in the circumstances, the leader, in a show of respect, bowed his head saying, “Peace be with you.” They rode off leaving the stunned youth to care for his master.
“Which of these is bravery, the berserker who is beyond fear or the boy who, in his desperate terror, still faces death?”
I was quite sure that I would rather face the five warriors than go on shore right now, but I clearly understood my father’s meaning.
Chapter 54) Early day after slave ships leave.
I slept fitfully throughout the night, waking several times to gunshots or the sounds of fighting from the camps ashore, as well as turmoil and screams from the Arawak encampment. Surveying the scene in the murky light of early dawn, it looked like a battlefield the day after a great engagement. Forty or fifty smoldering fires gave off thick dark smoke that hung close to the ground, almost, but not quite obscuring the hundreds of seemingly lifeless bodies strewn around them.
The smoke seemed thickest around the stand of trees where Lupe’s hospital was located and there seemed to be no activity.
The Arawak encampment was stirring, with many cook fires adding a small amount of smoke to the haze of the Spanish miasma. A group of perhaps 100 Arawak men, armed with rocks, clubs and firebrands, stood halfway between the two encampments, pacing and staring towards the Hispanic sailors, seemingly spoiling for a fight. A pyramid of six or seven corpses was off to the side, all appearing European.
A flotilla of large canoe was headed towards Borikén, the Arawak’s homeland, loaded with Arawak women and children being spirited away. For all I knew it could be that the Caribes had returned to recapture their prize, or perhaps the unknown tribe from the south that the Caribe sold or traded captives to, had arrived. But with the calm organized loading underway of a final canoe, with a rearguard of Arawak warriors, I was confident that the Arawak had gotten word to their own lands and a rescue was underway.
It was my unrealistic hope that all might be gone before any alarm was raised. As debauched as they were, six hundred plus sailors, upon seeing their assumed riches fleeing the island, could do much damage. It appeared that perhaps half the Arawak had been evacuated thus far with only a few women left on the land. Perhaps the remaining determined Arawak men could hold off the sailors, but if the soldiers from the ships with their firearms became involved, it would be catastrophic.
Fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately, there was more concern for regaining control of the wayward sailors and certainly for protecting the ships, than with the departing Arawak. Antonio De La Cosa, Captain of the Mariagallante, was aware of the actions of the Arawak, and had sent a boat to the other ships to call the other eight leaders to the Mariagallante for a council at sunrise, about an hour away.
Torrez had also sent a contingent onshore to secure the boats of the Triana. A few surely sailors made a weak attempt to stop them but the armed soldiers quickly took control and were overrun with volunteer oarsmen that wanted back on shipboard. The leader of these soldiers, the same captain who had returned Guadalupe the night before, chose twelve sailors of the Mariagallante to return with these boats to the flagship.
Cosa met with Captains Gallardo and Gutierrez, those who had been against the enslavement of the natives, who first came to the Mariagallante. They were pressing for landing sixty of their soldiers to stand between the sailors, who were slowly beginning to stir, and the natives to help insure that no further fighting or slaughter developed. Torrez was not opposed to this but felt the first duty lay with securing the Triana and assessing the situation there.
“Once we have all the ships secure we can address the situation on land,” Torrez commanded. Once again, an example that by being determined and forceful, Torrez was able to these lead these two captains. In no way subordinate to Torrez, he convinced them, almost ordered them to return to their ships with a plan to meet in thirty minutes at the Triana.
At a signal from La Cosa, each would swarm the ship from a different direction with ten fighters, using the element of surprise, if possible, to retake the ship. As there had been no activity on the ship or response to earlier repeated calls, they had no idea what to expect. Although I did not participate in this adventure, this is how I have gathered it transpired.
The Triana’s lowest entry point was nine feet above the boats that rowed towards it. After the first three feet of outward bulge, the ship’s sides sloped inwards and had plenty of hand holds. But getting from an unstable boat and scrambling up the side, trying to do it quietly, while expecting to meet a hostile foe at any moment, was not an easy thing.
One of the younger more agile soldiers volunteered to quietly climb aboard and secure rope ladders over the sides for the party to quickly and easily climb.
As it turned out there had been no need for caution or stealth. There were no enemies aboard, in fact, barring the numerous dead, it seemed that the ship had been deserted. After a few calls, there was a stirring in the cabins below, and the captain’s son, second in command on the ship, appeared with a couple of their own soldiers to gratefully welcome this force of friends.
He told of how the captain of the Triano’s soldiers and his lieutenant had been taken by surprise early in the evening of the previous day and beaten to death by the sailors. The captain/ owner of the ship, Señor Triano, had been a very lax captain, preferring to be “popular” with his men. In order to counterbalance this lack of discipline from the owner, the soldiers had been particularly brutal and free with punishment, and had paid dearly for it. In the fighting that ensued, eight other soldiers had been killed, with three badly wounded in the cabin down below.
Captain Triano was unconscious in the great cabin as well, having sustained numerous blows to the head and a sword thrust through his leg. The few remaining soldiers had barricaded themselves in the great cabin with Señor Triano and his son, and had successfully defended the captain and the store of weapons secured there.
Although the marauding sailors had vandalized the ship to a shocking degree, they were only interested in getting the spirits on shore, with most of the balance of stores still on board. In all there were fifteen dead and five injured on the Triano. Although soldiers were never required to work on board ship, they were ordered by captain of the guard, Serafin of the Mariagallante, to stack all the bodies on the main deck of the ship and cover them with tarpaulins. Further, they were to use buckets of water to remove the worst of the gore until further action could be taken. The dead soldiers were respectfully laid at the starboard rail, the sailors tossed in a heap to port.
The twelve sailors that had rowed the boats of the Triano out to the Mariagallante were now ordered to bring them back to the Triano, and then they went to work, setting the ship to rights.
Chapter- 55), Day after Slave ships leave, Franco
As the captains were gathering, many issues seemed to be resolving themselves.
As the Arawak women were being removed from the island, just three ancient healers, two men and one woman, had stayed behind to care for the ill sailors. All Arawak that had taken ill were already far along the way to their homeland.
The crew members of the Triano, the twenty odd sailors that had caused the fighting, deaths and plundering aboard the ship, were effectively sequestered by the six hundred others that wanted no association with that episode. Each crew had roughly organized itself at the point closest to its own ship and the point of landing when the captain and soldiers would be rowed ashore. They awaited their judgement and punishment almost silently, knowing that those that had murdered the soldiers and attacked the captain would be hung.
That group had at first held together and had marched towards the Arawak, perhaps with the idea of escaping in one of the large canoes when they returned. They were easily routed by the Arawak rear guard, however, who in short order had begun to fashion war clubs from the limbs of the local trees, many already fixed with sharp shards of stone or shell. They wreaked havoc on the sailors they caught up with, hacking one apparently to death in a brutal savage manner.
This completely changed the dynamics on shore. From weak and timid prisoners, the Arawak were now a strong, well-fed and very angry fighting force. All but the five ringleaders of the wayward sailors returned to the main body for some protection, hiding out in the trees by the makeshift hospital. A group of thirty or so Indios could be seen herding the remaining five towards the south end of the island.
Captain Torrez had arranged for a force of fifty soldiers onshore, many armed with firearms, to form a defense between the Indios and the sailors. Initial contact between the various captains and their crews had begun, mostly done from the boats with many soldiers aboard, thus obliging the leaders of the crews to wade out to them and parley.
It was quickly ascertained that the sailors had no intention of rebellion or mutiny, and with the growing threat from the remaining Indios, were eager to be back on board.
Colón was rallying and, by just before noon, he was able to be cleaned up and propped up in a chair, able to receive the nine remaining captains in his great cabin. Even as they entered, another flotilla of canoes had arrived to carry away more of the Arawak, and the captains had decided that any interference would only result in a battle with many losses on both sides.
Overnight Colón appeared to have lost half his size. His bloodshot eyes were sunk into hollow, dark sockets. His complexion was sallow, with a slight yellow tinge. But the feisty manner in which he extracted and devoured reports from the captains told them that he was on the mend and definitely still in charge.
The report of the escaping Arawak did not have the impact everyone expected. He quickly agreed that letting them leave was the correct course of action and was more interested in the sailors, their collective mental state, as well as the hospital and its patients.
There was no exact number to give Colón, but it was clear there were considerably more ill. Guadalupe had asked for an escort to take her to shore so she might assist the three Arawak healers that had stayed behind. Captain Torres had asked that she wait until after the meeting with Colón when a full plan could be put together. She did not have the heart to put up an argument.
As Colón would certainly tire quickly, the meeting was short and decisions made even more quickly.
We would spend the next few days, at the least, on this island, attempting to get this plague under control. With ten Europeans dead already, and the large number of new cases, there was sure to be losses in the scores. Father Pané, along with all physicians, would put a plan together. There had been two horrible plagues in Spain in just the past two decades, so all were aware that ten to even twenty percent of the crew were at risk.
With young Triano’s help, a list of all participants in last night’s mutiny would be put together, and Captain Seraphin, with a force of thirty soldiers, would capture them all and hold them until they could be tried and brought to justice.
Thought would need to be given to what to do with the superabundance of domesticated animals that had been offloaded from the eight ships that were headed back to Spain.
Work crews would be organized to keep the sailors busy and disciplined. A number to provide shade, water and wood for fuel for the hospital, others to refill the water casks on board each ship, others to restore the holds. And clean, always cleaning, repairing and reorganizing.
For myself, I had gone from the pinnacle of feeling I had been part of a great success in helping steer Colón away from the slavery scheme - I had a beautiful girl on my arm as I walked the ship’s deck just a few nights past. Then to the depths of despair and fear as the slavery scheme came to fruition, Colón was close to death, the camp out of control with Lupe trapped in the middle of the nightmare this evening past. Now Lupe is safe, Colón appears to be miraculously coming around, and upwards of eight hundred humans had escaped the degradation and hopelessness of captivity. There was still the plight of the Arawak who were on their way to Spain and the depressing situation of the many sailors that were ill or had died, with much more to come, but my spirits were somewhat revived.
Although I risked Colón’s ire if he called for me, I absolutely was going to accompany Guadalupe to the hospital and see for myself that it was safe.
Chapter 56), Lliago and leaders Decide to Fight to Win.
Immediately, Lliago sent a crew to collect the saltpeter and sulfur that Astillo and Salvador had discovered. He tried not to let his conscious mind realize how pleased he was to have these men, as well as their acquired information back with them, while not having to deal with the immense burden of Captain Martinez. Imagining having to eradicate or neutralize this millstone of a man, that Colón had hung around his neck, had absorbed and occupied a tremendous amount of his thoughts and worry. To have this pressing and almost impossible problem suddenly resolved was a tremendous relief. He felt a large measure of guilt at feeling such satisfaction at a comrade’s demise, but there it was.
Lliago had never thought of himself as “Hispanic” or ”Spaniard”. The Monarchs themselves did not. She was the Queen of Castile, he the King of Aragon. He didn’t think of himself as a Basque, certainly not a Catalonian. He had no allegiance to any country or continent, did not feel part of anything larger than his father’s farm.
He was Taino through and through. Guacanagari and Kiskeya were his sovereigns and all loyalty was to them. Allemanda was his wife and family, Cuan his brother. He was entirely devoted to their protection and well-being.
All of the remaining crew, who were Basque if anything, had been… accepted as husbands in the Cacicazgos, the people of Guacanagari and Kiskeya. There was virtually no resistance to the plan now being implemented to stop both the Hispanics and Caribs from their deprivations against the Cacicazgos.
Even though Martinez was a very weak leader, with no friends or followers among those left behind, his perceived authority may have weakened the united group, as they daily became more Taino themselves.
They had discussed numerous strategies to neutralize or destroy the Hispanic threat they all agreed was coming. Looking at their weapons, they considered the captured Caribe canoes, their own war clubs and their very powerful bows. Held with the feet while sitting and leaning back, pulling the string back with both arms, these bows could launch a massive bolt, capable of piercing armor at over 100 yards.
They also had the cannon brought up from the wreck of the Santa Maria, and with Astilla and Salvador’s discoveries and experiments, had sufficient powder to launch several dozen rounds from each. Although more powder could be made, they had had no luck in casting a copper ball to this point.
Of course, they had no clear idea on how many ships and men were coming their way. In a straight up battle against armed ships, they could not hope to defeat even two. There would certainly be more than that.
With the excitement Colón would be able to generate, Lliago felt it would be wise to plan on at least ten ships and perhaps six hundred men. Perhaps three hundred would be armed soldiers. Their hand-held firearms would throw a half-inch lead ball up to one hundred yards accurately, and could be reloaded in around two minutes. The canon threw a fist-sized iron ball of about seven pounds nearly three hundred yards accurately, or twenty one-inch balls, grapeshot, about one hundred yards with devastating effect. They took about four minutes to reload.
With ten thousand or more warriors, the Taino could certainly withstand an initial volley and the slaughter of three or four hundred, and then overwhelm the Hispanic force before they could reload. Guacanagari pointed out that they had overcome several hundred Caribe with no loss of Taino, by using surprise and an effective trap, and felt that they could come up with an equally effective welcome for the Spanish.
Guacanagari could not forgive himself for going along with the Shaman and the Nitianos in allowing Colón to take his people away, people he was responsible for, people he loved, including his youngest son and niece… unpardonable. He was determined to put the energy of his deep-seated anger into assuring the protection of his people.
Although Guacanagari's attitude towards Colón was one hundred eighty degrees from where it had been when Colón had departed for his return to Hispania or Espana, Colón would not be aware of this change. They would be naturally cautious, but not anticipating trouble.
Although in their pride, all the leaders would prefer a stand up battle, both sides equally armed with valor and strength being the deciding factors, they all came to realize that their desire for one on one battle was impossible and that the future and safety of all their people depended on an overwhelming and decisive victory against the European invaders.
Lliago had a plan…
Chapter 57) Headed to Borikén, Guadalupe and Franco Make a Decision
The fresh air, the wind, the clean smell of salt… it felt good to be out at sea again. The breeze was constant and from the west, the deck at an almost unnoticeable, unchanging slant.
After six weeks on shore, the worst of the disease, at least the infectious stage, seemed to be over. The number of new infections had been steadily falling until a full week had gone by with no new sailors taking ill. Almost a third of the sailors had perished with an equal amount still ill at various stages.
Six weeks of illness, death, burials, sweat, backbreaking endless toil…and above all the smell of the dead and dying. I breathed in deeply, hoping to purge my nose and lungs.
Guadalupe has stayed in her cabin since we left the island with the exception of a few minutes last evening when we walked on the upper deck, not saying a word, just enjoying the clean, cool evening… and the stars… and no one ill to look after.
But our closeness was gone. She tolerated my presence but no more. She seemed in deep sadness and I had the distinct feeling she would rather be alone. After a short time, without ever looking me in the eye or acknowledging my good night, she returned to her cabin
Although there were still more than enough men to sail the ships, the quality of the remaining sailors had suffered drastically. The soldiers, most who did not know starboard from larboard or which rope did what, were now mostly employed in raising and lowering sail. Cleaning out the decks where the ill were recovering or dying, was reserved for the most inept, so there was a great incentive to learn.
The nine remaining ships followed the same path to the northwest that the first eight had taken six weeks earlier. The transport ships, now slave ships, were to have headed to the latitude of Hispaniola and Navidad, following this western current then heading as directly north as possible to catch the current headed back to the Azores and Portugal, the same that Colón had encountered the previous spring.
With the Arawak language so similar to Nigari and Lupe’s, Nigari’s knowledge of Borikén, where the Arawak had been earlier captured by the Caribe, and its relation to Navidad and the Cacicazgo of Guacanagari, Nigari had been able to assure Colón that we will be there within a week.
Rather than arrive in our current beggarly and wretched state, Colón has determined to set up a temporary settlement on the far side of Borikén. Here he is planning to offload the remaining ill with enough people to care for them. Then he will bring his remaining ships back to a level where they can enter the bay at Navidad with a great show of strength and overwhelming power.
Colón himself had regained his health and strength and was, once again, in complete command. He would physically tire quickly, but had learned his limits and would elevate and rest his legs whenever convenient. One of his captains had early on foolishly hinted at electing a new leader until Colón was quite well. He was so severely handled by Colón, was so quashed and humiliated by his devastating rebuke that no hint was ever raised again. The admiral stated clearly and convincingly that such an attempt would end with the hanging of the instigators.
It had been in Colón’s mind all along to make Navidad his permanent base from which to launch his trading forays.
He, without ever admitting his error, had given up his insistence on a smaller earth, and their proximity to China. He planned instead on both a local trade with the natives for gold and copper, a search for their mines or new sources for the metals, while making further voyages west to the mainland the Arawak insisted was just several days sail or canoe.
He would set up farms in the fertile valley where the Taino grew their sparse unorganized mounds of produce, and was sure the European farming methods would supply an overabundance. Eventually ships would return to Guadalupe to bring their remaining stock of cattle, horse and swine. He had seen unending pasture for them on his first trip to Hispaniola..
With thousands of laborers supplied by the Taino, he was confident that in no time he would have a thriving village as his base. The joyful way that the Taino men pitched in with the construction of the shelter, with the timbers of the Santa Maria on his first voyage, was clear proof that they were simply desperate for a leader to put their energy to use. The idea that the Taino would offer any resistance was not even a consideration after the compliance he had met with before with just a handful of men and a single viable ship.
Rather than his illness dulling his hunger for wealth and power, rather than coming face to face with his mortality and realizing he must correct this evil path he was headed down, it seemed to harden his heart.
We no longer communicated at all.
Colón spends his days in his cabin, giving orders to Captain De La Casa, having meals brought in. He no longer walks the aft deck. He gets plenty of light through his stern windows, so he is not in a cave exactly, but has effectively sequestered himself.
I check on him after he has broken his fast in the morning and he politely, yet coldly, excuses me for the day. I check again at the end of the day to see if he has anything he needs written out fair or entered into the log and I am politely dismissed again.
Father Pané is on another ship, caring for the ill with a few of his brethren, Nigari is back with his fellow Taino, so I am pretty well left to my own devices. I am hoping Guadalupe will join me again this evening, but she stays mostly in her triangular cabin at the bow of the ship.
It is hard to imagine, I am sure, but on a ship seventy-five feet long and twenty-five wide at its largest, with fifty-two others on board, I could feel lonely.
Under Colón’s cabin lay the crew’s quarters - about twenty by twenty and six feet tall between rafters - where those not on duty spend their time. There are usually thirty sailors crammed in there sleeping, gambling and talking. From three hours past sunset until morning when it was generally quiet, those that had the night duty would sleep as best they could during the day. Most, from habit, could sleep through anything.
A few of the sailors had traded for woven hanging nets from the Arawak called Hamacca, made from hamacca tree bark fibers. On land the Arawak would sling these nets between trees and sleep comfortably in a cocoon-like manner, off the ground and away from animal and insect alike. On shipboard, they worked amazingly well and created much more available space. Although we had enjoyed perfect weather since our first landing, their comfort in bad weather or a cross sea was easily imagined. Rather than being heaved around, smashing into each other and the cabin’s sides with the roll tumble of the ship going through heavy seas, they could rock gently with the roll.
The crew’s cabin, however, quickly began to look like a gigantic spider’s web, and after many brawls and injuries from fights over space or when someone’s hamacca would be cut down with them inside, it was agreed, or rather, ordered by Captain De La Casa, that they could only be slung from lights out until dawn, with a few left up for the crew members who had worked night duty.
I had heard that the physicians and ship’s carpenters had rigged up a very organized system on the two ships with the remaining ill, where, by having the hamacca stacked above each other with walking rows between, they could comfortably handle thirty resting patients.
Like a dutiful watchdog, I slept on the forecastle deck above Guadalupe’s cabin. During the day I would rarely venture past the fogon, the cooking stove, about the middle of the ship, except for my twice a day visit to Colón.
With the passage of time, I had come to realize that the angry sullen look of the sailors, with the constant curses and vicious fighting, was just their natural way. This set their pecking order and formed a defense of sorts, where men could live in such close proximity without murdering each other, at least not frequently.
Often I’d pass a shipmate now whose sullen look portended evil. They would break into a friendly grin and a willingness to converse if I would offer them the least acknowledgment or wish for a Buenas Dias.
Although I had witnessed these men at their worst among the Arawak, where they were little better than wild animals in their treatment of the women and their brutality towards the men who would try to protect them, I had, somehow, grown accustomed to their brutishness and found I was no longer in constant fear for my life, although I was still careful not to cross them or accidentally give offence.
But still, I was set apart.
It was an epiphany of sorts I suppose. I, a young man, having just turned eighteen, had received an overwhelming education over the last six months of the current way of the world, almost none of which I approved and seemingly none, as an individual, I could do anything about.
I could not, as an example, kill off six hundred sailors to keep them from assaulting the native women, a practice that invading forces had enjoyed since warfare and conquest had begun far back in biblical times, and was implicitly approved by the leaders who did nothing to stop it.
I also seemed unable to dissuade the captains from abandoning their wicked course.
After tremendous effort, my gains in steering Colón from slavery disappeared when the easy money of selling the Arawak captives presented itself. Had Colón been in prime health, I doubt even he could have stopped his captains, and I was not sure if he would have wanted to.
The rape of the Canary Islands seemed an unstoppable process. Even the Catholic Monarch’s abhorrence and prohibition of slavery could not halt it.
And after all that Guadalupe had suffered, the death of most of her companions, being torn from her family and loved-ones, I was helping bring the despicable ways of the world to her front door. I was disgusted with all of my people, but mostly with myself and my inconsequence.
Doubtless Guadalupe was feeling the same loathing for all of us and that was why she no longer looked to me for companionship.
I was right back to where I was when we had left the Canary Islands, except that now, I had witnessed the actual beginning of the rape of the Americas and had also broken the heart of the girl I cared for more than anyone.
I am ashamed to say… I gave in to self-pity. Not so hard to do with so much death and violence just this week past. From favored of the admiral to persona non grata, from favored of the beautiful Guadalupe to despised watchdog.
While wallowing in this pit of despair I dozed off for no more than twenty minutes or so.
I slowly awakened, amazingly refreshed. Eyes closed, I began to notice the warm sun on my skin easing away some of the tension of the last few days. Coffee was being prepared on the fogon for the admiral. Although the life would be boiled out of it, it was a pleasing scent, reminding me of home and my father. The spray from an errant bow wave misted across and refreshed me and heightened the sense of my surroundings. Startled as the mist of a larger wave blew across me, I noticed my arms and hands from where the sea spray was evaporating. Always strong, they were putting on some heft now, as if eighteen years was a blooming point for me. Strong hands like my father’s, who never shied from any task or foe.
I thought of my father now, gathering strength from the memory of him. I considered Colón my enemy now. How he had arisen from his sick bed with a strength and fury unseen before, misplaced certainly, but strength nonetheless, this was inspiring in a strange way. I thought of Guadalupe, tiny, beautiful and fierce. I even thought of David and his giant to slay.
Could I just sit here and let things move to their inevitable conclusion, or would I make something happen? Angrily I got to my feet and turned to pound on Guadalupe’s cabin door. Before my knuckles could rap, as if my thoughts had conjured her, she flung open the door. She said nothing, but her fiery determined eyes matched my new-found determination exactly. She stepped back, silently bidding me enter.
Chapter 57.5 Juan Chico
Juan Chico had become invisible. When he would return from a two or three day journey, he might get a nod or grunt from a companion, but no questions concerning his absence, where he’d gone or what he’d seen. After his rejection by Bisma’s sister, when all of his companions had found “love” on Hispaniola, his interest in the Taino was gone. He just wanted to be back home in Hispania.
There was nothing for him in Navidad. He certainly had no desire to be part of their treasonous scheme against Colón that was clearly doomed to failure.
He had found a canoe hidden in the reeds in a small salt swamp bordering the sea about a month before. He now decided to borrow it on a more or less permanent basis. Taking numerous stealthy trips, he filled it with food supplies, a hammock, a thick cotton blanket and started east along the coast.
He had found some yellow ore that he thought might be gold where a small creek reached the shore about twenty miles from Navidad. He would begin there then continue slowly working his way further east along the shore, keeping an eye out for Colón and his ships, expected sometime in the coming month.
If he could gather a poke of gold, and could warn Colón of the trap awaiting him, he might return home a hero, with enough money to set himself up in business.
Chapter 58) Borikén
There were two-hundred-nineteen remaining healthy sailors. It was impossible to tell why these men were spared the evil effects of the plague, or why another sixty-six were far enough on the road to recovery that it was clear their bodies had been able to conquer the disease. Of the remaining one-hundred-thirty who had left Guadalupe Island, sixty-nine had succumbed, and sixty-one would remain on Borikén, under the care of the priests and a handful of local native Arawak, who had agreed to help.
Colón tried to straighten his legs to relieve a cramp and ache in his right knee from the swelling and lack of movement. He wished to kick the coverings off but that was impossible.
It would take two full days to set up camp, and then a few more to organize the ships into an impressive flotilla. The trip to Navidad should take around seven days. He and De La Casa estimated there were around five-hundred miles to travel and that they could travel around eighty miles per day with the prevailing winds and currents, anchoring each night to avoid unseen reefs or outcroppings, such as the one that doomed the Santa Maria.
He was able to prop a few pillows behind his back allowing him to sit up and see out his bank of stern windows. By leaning forward and stretching his arm out as far as possible he was able to get a corner of the blanket and pull it towards him and off his burning legs. Blessed relief!
There would be thirty-two men on each boat, with forty-four on the Mariagallante including the fourteen remaining Taino.
Colón had no trepidations about anchoring all nine boats in the generous bay of Navidad. In general it was quite easy to enter and leave the bay with the twice daily tide, and if the weather turned stormy they would all be safe and sheltered therein.
He could see four of his remaining ships from where he sat, the bare masts shining brightly in the sun, the rigging’s black lines backlit with the morning’s bright blue sky.
This would also show the massive combined strength of the three hundreds of men, nine ships and all their fire power. Colón felt a show of force would dissuade any change from the past helpfulness of the Taino and their leader, Guacanagari. With all the launches, the small landing boats, about a hundred-and-twenty men could be landed at a time, so three trips total. Seven Taino would accompany Colón with the other seven, including Guadalupe and Nigari held back until last, as an insurance of safety for the first parties.
Back in Europe at the time, the use of hostages between neighboring kingdoms, a ruler holding the offspring of a foe to insure adherence to an agreement, was so common that Colón gave his use of Nigari and Lupe as human shields of sorts no thought at all… it created no pang of conscious.
The tremendous assistance rendered by the siblings in dealing with the Arawak captives and, especially Lupe’s care of those sailors struck down by this plague, had raised them high in his esteem, and in reality he would not harm them for the world. Still, he would have thought himself a fool to not use them.
As he discussed these ideas with his captains, Colón was pleased that neither Father Pané nor Franco had been present. Franco especially had grown quite sullen, and Colón knew that he had grown very close to Lupe and Nigari. He would rather none of them were aware of his plans.
Since the latest onslaught of his own illness, the many poor decisions and obvious lack of judgement on his own part, Colón was painfully, sadly aware of the contempt and disgust both Pané and Franco now must feel for him.
Colón felt strongly that it was the almost unendurable pain in his knees, the fever, the headaches and the resulting weakness, that resulted in the disastrous, momentous, irreversible decision to go along with the majority of his captain’s desire to enslave the Arawak. By the time Colón had recovered, it was all he could do to regain control of the entire operation.
“It might be true of everyone,” Colón reflected, considering his current relationship with these two who he was so fond of. He was furious with both of them, in fact had been treating them both despicably, simply because they were in the right and stood as a visual reminder of his own weakness and failing. “Perhaps I need their council now more than ever? Neither Pané nor Franco were concerned with gaining power or wealth, both devoted to spreading Christianity… who better?” he thought.
If he were truly God’s servant, nay, God’s instrument, as he was still strongly convinced of, how could he be continually failing in this manner? How could he possibly make up for the betrayal of the hundreds of Arawak captives he had doomed to a life as slaves or worse for the young women? He had heard that they entered the ships as “…lambs to the slaughter.”
He would dedicate the funds from the sale of these poor Arawak to the construction of a church and school at his proposed port city in Navidad. By constantly helping to bring the Taino to the true God, he could make up for his fall from grace. “Perhaps it was part of God’s plan?” he thought, knowing deep down that he was merely deceiving himself further.
He slowly started edging his legs towards the edge of the bed, eventually attempting to gingerly stand and prepare for the day. His steward should be in with the coffee he smelled brewing soon and would help him with morning ablutions and dressing.
He was very familiar with the Muslim philosophy of Maktub or “It is written”, that destiny or fate was already cast in stone. With the tolerance of the Muslim faiths in Hispania, Colón had heard this philosophy as well as the ‘Si Dios Quiere or God Willing…’ attitude of his own religion. He disagreed with both and strongly felt that his “destiny” required his full effort and cooperation.
He would invite Pané, Franco and the sweet Guadalupe, as well as her cousin Nigari, to a thanks-giving dinner of sorts this evening and share his vision with them. He was sure he could get back in their favor; in fact, could gain their support for his plan moving forward.
With a mighty effort as well as exquisite pain, Colón swung his legs around and down to the floor, pale with the feel of hammer blows and piercing knives to his knees. Dizzy with the move he rested for the next task…standing. After the mind-numbing pain, however, it felt so good to just hold still.
With his conceived base on Hispaniola, he was certain that he could bring God to these ignorant, yet noble heathens, while gaining wealth for the crown, supporting their expansion of Catholicism, perhaps even funding a new Crusade to free the Holy Land.
He had half convinced himself, and was preparing to stand when a huge blast of wind struck the side of the ship, healing it over a few degrees, even though the Mariagallante was moored fore and aft, without a stitch of sail aloft. “We are in for a storm!” he thought, grabbing his glass of water as it slid towards the table’s edge in its own puddle of sparkling condensation, hoping it would be one of the short squalls that came out of nowhere, but only lasted minutes rather than days or hours.
He hoped in vain.
Chapter 59) Squall
We three, Lupe, Nigari and I, ran ahead, hoping to warn Guacanagari of the coming calamity. Lupe had begun to insist she be called by her given name, Guacaa, now that she had severed ties with the Hipanic invaders.
Borikén had faded into a bank of clouds to the east by noon. Although it was short of one hundred miles between Borikén and Aiti, or Hispaniola as Colón called it, we would be traveling nearly three-hundred miles to reach Navidad and Guacaa’s people. By traveling to the northwest for the first few hours, we had entered a relatively strong current in the direction of our travel. The change was dramatic. From the mirror-like calm of the sea we traveled on; with the bright stars clearly reflecting in the stillness, we could see a demarcation where the water was ruffled and obviously moving at a great pace.
Our companions told us that once in the stream, we would be wafted to Guacanagari's country, or Cacicazgos, in three days’ time without touching a paddle for either speed or direction. By applying the paddles moderately during the day in shifts and resting through the nights with a single oarsman at watch, it was believed we would be in Navidad at about dawn in two days.
Nigari was a little rusty at his first spell of paddling, but soon picked up the rhythm. I was able to smash my knuckles between paddle and rim of canoe, soak the poor paddler directly in front of me, who promptly scooped a gallon or so into my lap, and nearly lost the paddle when I somehow managed to miss the entire Atlantic Ocean with one of my strokes, practically upsetting the canoe in my effort to hang onto it.
Lupe, Guacaa studiously looked away pretending not to notice my fumbling awkwardness. Our host paddlers continued to jest, in words I could not understand, but that were obviously aimed at my awkwardness. Her quivering shoulders and occasional bowed head showed her strong effort, yet inability to hold in all her mirth. Show me any man who enjoys being the butt of amusement to any female.
Our head start, having left at midnight and assuming that it would be dawn before our absence was noticed, would be difficult to make up even by Colón’s fastest boat, the little twenty-foot pinnace they used for running between ships, even if they guessed the route we had taken. From the deck of the pinnace they could see no more than five or six miles and so it would be improbable and incredibly bad luck if they stumbled across us. At least that is what I continued to tell myself.
I was surprised at how quickly my turn at paddling came up again. After a few strokes, however, an Arawak youth firmly, almost angrily, grabbed the paddle from my hands and took my place. I realized my paddling was creating more work and discomfort than it was worth for these experts.
I supposed that Colón would guess our destination of Navidad, the home of Guacaa and Nigari. I supposed further that the pinnace, sent straight there to intercept us and taking advantage of the afternoon breezes, could possibly do just that. It would be a very long shot. Each minute that passed before that ship was dispatched made it more unlikely.
I was sitting at the back of the craft looking forward at Lupe’s straight back and flowing hair as she sat in the front. Niño, the name I had given the youngest Arawak, whom Nigari had spelled, had been peering steadily to the rear. He tapped the back of Burro, the name I associated with the stout, tireless, and apparent leader of the crew, who glanced back for twenty seconds or so. He calmly gave a word, and the crew picked up the pace.
Our greatest unknown was the state of matters in Navidad. Colón spoke of the competence of Captain Mendoza and Lieutenant Lliago with such glowing terms they might conceivably have taken control of the whole area and our canoe was simply delivering us from one jailer to another. We would have to use some cunning to avoid them and their men, and get to Guacanagari first.
We would land in the bay to the east of Navidad, or Marién as the Taino called it, and reconnoiter with relatives of Guacaa’s that lived there. Then we could intelligently determine our course of action.
Burro instructed Niño to take Nigari’s spot. Nigari came back next to me and began to carefully instruct me on the finer points of pushing the craft forward by paddle. “We will need to relieve the paddlers effectively. There is a storm coming our way,” Nigari calmly stated, compelling me to look back.
The immediate worry now became the massive bank of clouds mounting against Borikén and headed our way with frightful speed. At best we were still thirty-five miles from the tip of Aiti, where we might hope to get shelter from this coming storm.
There were nine of us all told on the tiny craft. The wooden canoe bobbing on the surface felt so heavy that I imagined it plunging to the sea’s bottom if we were swamped or capsized. But our six strong companions kept pulling steadily, propelling the craft with moderate speed, with two by two being spelled every twenty minutes or so, Nigari and I taking our turns. By closely studying and mimicking the paddlers ahead, I soon became reasonably proficient. I had just needed the proper motivation.
I felt tremendously guilty about the paltry trinkets I had traded for this passage that now looked to become quite dangerous. The burly youths continued their happy banter among themselves, only slightly constrained by Guacaa’s presence. Although they increased the speed of the craft perceptibly, the roiling storm that had begun to exhibit a tremendous lightning show in its towering thunderheads, still did not seem to unduly concern them. They appeared to be belittling me as I would occasionally glance back at the approaching storm. I took some comfort in this.
Several hours later however, hours of being constantly buffeted by mighty blasts of wind that nearly upset the canoe and of being pelted with cold driving rain, their faces were as grave as mine, strangely giving me a little satisfaction while simultaneously terrorizing me. “Ha ha!,” I thought grimly, “ see how much they smile when we are all drowned!”
We were running with the wind and I, at least, had no idea of our direction or the passage of time. It seemed interminable. The paddles were used simply to keep the small craft as steady as possible and in the right position to ride the mighty rollers as they overtook us. Lightning would occasionally show Lupe valiantly bailing, as did whichever two were not plying the paddles.
Hour after hour we struggled. With the frigid rain pelting down, everyone numb with fatigue, hunger and cold, it seemed there would be no end to our misery. Every stroke was thought to be the last possible, then one more, then one more… time passed with no hint of relief, until darkness, from evening or storm, began to overtake us.
A mighty bolt of lightning blasted and lit the top of a wave off to our right, the thunder-clap right along with it! The strike made the spider web of foam fairly glow for an instant. “Quite pretty and spectacular,” one obscure part of my brain noted, as the rest prepared to die.
But Burro shouted and pointed slightly left of our heading and urged all to pull for all their worth. A short hour’s heroic effort, a mighty wave, a flash of lightning and we were thrown, canoe and all, far up on the rocky shore of land, scattering our numbed bodies among the boulders. I somehow was able to raise myself, and at the last second pluck Guacaa from the retreating canoe, as it began to return to the sea.
Chapter 60) Juan Chica and Martinez
Juan Chica entered a small bay far to the east of Navidad. There were some ugly thunderheads in the east and he had no desire to be at sea when the storm hit.
He had been traveling for several weeks now, encountering few people, avoiding most by putting into tiny uninhabited bays where creeks or rivers flowed into the sea. If empty of people, he would spend a few days exploring and looking for his fortune. He had found a few samples of free copper, and a bit of shiny iron pyrite, (both of which he took for gold), but never any of the precious ore that he would never recognize in its natural state, even if he happened to stumble across it. He had a carefully stowed and hidden packet of perhaps a pound of mostly worthless rock and dirt on which he planned his future.
His mind had grown a little disturbed he knew. He now constantly spoke to himself, and was in the habit of repeating over and over the imagined wrongs inflicted on him by the Taino and his fellow Basque at Marién, and even imagined conversations that never actually took place. He could not bear the constant roar of the sea, the lack of human voices, the constant sun and the drone of his own voice, and grew ever more agitated and addled as the relentless sun beat upon his dark unprotected head. Added to this was both malnutrition and dehydration, as he would often forget to eat and would regularly drink of the brackish river water where it met the incoming tide.
He put on a hat of sorts he had woven from palm fronds. It had the appearance of a poorly made heron’s nest, but, when it was not blown off, seemed to help keep the worst of the sun’s rays off.
As he entered the small cove, he worried he might be hallucinating. On the beach sat a hazy, solitary figure, wrapped in a Taino woven blanket, sitting comfortably in the sun that had not yet been overrun by the coming clouds. A small heap of logs, sand, branches and palm fronds formed a crude shelter of sorts at the edge of the jungle, a wisp of smoke escaping through the fronds.
Ordinarily, Juan would eschew meeting others in his travels, but the look of the sky, the chop of the rising sea, as well as the weak, defenseless appearance of the resident combined to convince him to land. As he slowly approached, the solitary figure somehow began to look familiar. Juan was in despair to hear another human voice, and from the ragged pants the stranger wore Juan was sure he was European as opposed to Taino.
He landed perhaps thirty yards away, ready for a quick retreat to the sea if he sensed danger. As he slowly, cautiously approached to within three fathoms, eighteen feet or so, a croaking voice said, “Buenos Dias Juan!” Stunned, Juan was rooted in place. Crouching in an odd posture poised to spring away, he peered closely at the figure. Slowly the head turned towards him displaying a hideous visage. An eye and ear were missing, with a vicious, angry, but not quite healed red scar covering the whole top right of his head. Through his terror and disgusted fascination, he began to recognize what remained was the face of Captain Martinez.
“You have been sent to rescue me, Gracias a Dios” Martinez groaned.
Chapter 61) After the Storm
The torrential storm had lasted all the day and following night, keeping all of Colón’s people trapped in whatever shelter they could find. Finally calming to a steady rain in the morning, the wind continued to gust, but with none of the intensity or the lighting of the day before. After getting Captain De La Cosa’s report on the ships, none that had sustained appreciable damage, Colón had asked La Cosa to have Franco report to him. He planned on taking the first step towards mending his relationship with the boy. In addition to being a valuable clerk and recorder, Colón found that he missed Franco’s companionship and interchange of ideas. He would certainly be integral to Colón’s plans moving forward.
The Admiral sat in bed covered with a pile of blankets trying to rid himself of a chill that would not give up its hold and the mind-numbing pain running the length of both legs. He placed a tankard of hot mulled wine on a table at bedside, half of which he had spilled in his almost uncontrollable shivering. He bade La Cosa enter.
“He was last seen when he had been rowed, along with Lupe, to the ship where the Taino, including Lupe’s brother, Nigari were housed,” La Cosa let him know. Picking up Nigari they had been landed on shore where they planned to visit Father Pané and the remaining ill. This was just before the storm hit. “They never made it to Pané, but I’ve sent to the nearer Arawak villages, and of course, am having the other ships checked,” continued La Casa. “once located, I will send him to you. Although a powerful storm, there was no major damage and I am sure they will be located and found to be safe.” He finished.
With an abundance of time for reflection, Colón had begun to recognize a certain envy or jealousy of Franco and his position. A handsome, well-spoken youth, Franco had none of the awkwardness that the Judas Iscariot red haired and heavily freckled young Colón had been forced to deal with. The son of a relatively wealthy landowner, Franco required none of the slyness necessary to be successful in trade that Colón had needed at that age. While the late teenaged Colón had to eke out the last possible moneda in trading for the well-being of his family, Franco had enjoyed religious training that Colón would have given an arm for.
Now at eighteen to be so pure and noble, well educated, free to follow his own path, a stunning and intelligent young woman at his side…
However, it was not an unhealthy jealousy. Colón was ordinarily quite pleased with his lot in life. He adored his own beautiful and intelligent Beatriz, he loved and was loved by his two sons. He was overwhelmed by the opportunity God and the Monarchs had bestowed on him.
It was Franco’s purity, his lack of necessity for guile or compromise that Colón both admired and craved. He was anxious now to patch up their tattered friendship.
It was several hours later when it was found that the three had left with six Arawak youths nearly thirty-six hours earlier in an open canoe for Aite. “This would have put them about half way there when the storm hit.” said La Cosa stonily, after entering Colón’s cabin with a very shaken Father Pané. “With no islands between for shelter, there is no chance they could have survived the storm.”
Colón’s fever had subsided, the chills now gone, and he sat in stunned silence in a chair in his cabin. His eyes were sunk with large patches of black beneath.
He had questioned Pané, Colón was sure that the priest had no fore-knowledge or any ideas on what Franco and Lupe had in mind when they fled. He had seen that the couple had a mutual attraction, and further was aware of Franco’s quixotic personality and unwavering need to ascertain and pursue the right course. Once he, Colón, had abandoned Franco’s plan, he was sure the youths had together decided they must warn Guacanagari of what was coming his way. “And I can hardly be angry with them,” Colón thought, “…if they were half as disappointed with me as I am with myself!”
Colón looked up, coming out of a sad reverie to see that Cosa and Pané had left his cabin. He was tired, feverish and despondent and was not sure if he had nodded off or just was lost in thought.
He felt the loss of these children as an exceptionally painful result of his own shortcomings, a direct result of his, Colón’s, mistakes. He wallowed in sorrow for a spell.
But, death was a constant companion, and to survive, all Europeans at that time had dulled sensitivity to it. All had lost numerous family members in recent plagues. All had seen starvation. If half of a mother’s children lived to the age of ten it was miraculous.
Just as a captain of soldiers might be shocked and briefly mourn the loss of a first lieutenant or close friend in battle, but must continue the fight, Colón knew he could not let this deeply felt sorrow affect him for more than a brief period, or, at the least, the grief must be postponed. He had many sailors, the future of Hispania and the spiritual welfare of this new land was his responsibility. For good or ill, his unshakeable faith in his own destiny, as well as his duty to God and the Catholic Monarchs, pushed him, drove him in his final preparations for the conversion of Hispaniola. Although the thought was buried deep, deep inside, there was great relief that this ‘warning’ to Guacanagari did not succeed whatever the cost. It could only have resulted in many more deaths for both the Hispanics and the Indios, with the same, ultimate results. Spain would control this new land.
Colón’s steward knocked and entered, surprised to see a more animated Colón. “If there are eggs available I’ll have two poached with a cup of warmed port.” He said, dismissing the youth.
He was peripherally concerned on how to present the loss of the Cacique’s son and niece to Guacanagari in an acceptable manner. Perhaps an expansion on the story of Nigari and Lupe’s heroism in dealing with the captive Arawak and the treatment of the devastating disease. Colon would alter the end of that story with both youths succumbing to the plague themselves. “More necessary deceit.” he groaned inwardly. He would have four days to perfect the story, but loss of life at that time in history was more usual than not.
The bright, almost orange yolk of the duck eggs he sopped up with a crusty heel of bread. This was his first honest meal in days and he was surprised by his appetite.
They would leave with the following morning’s ebb tide , he informed La Cosa, about two hours before dawn. With the prevailing breeze always east to west, they would slant northwestwards into the same current that had brought them so quickly from the Canary Islands they had left from a short month before. It seemed a year.
For this step, boldness was everything. Any hesitation or weakness might prove catastrophic. Estimating the tides at Navidad, he and his captains planned a later landing, around the third hour afternoon. They would enter the bay with as much show and pageantry as possible, firing numerous dumb show blanks from the canon. They would land all the soldiers with their musket and other firearms, as well as available armor at once and form an impressive honor guard to escort Colón and the captains to Guacanagari.
They would accomplish this as quickly and expeditiously as possible, giving Guacanagari little time to organize any defense. Once the Cacique saw his position, Colón had no doubt about Guacanagari's capitulation, perhaps even his participation in the subjugation of all Hispaniola. Offering rulers of one tribe security, power and wealth in exchange for their assistance in defeating another tribe had been employed since man’s beginning, most recently in subjugating the Canary Islands.
The effort of eating fairly exhausted him and he returned to his sleeping birth, a curtained off alcove off his cabin. Propping himself up, he rested his eyes for a moment.
The assistance of the powerful Taino shaman he felt was virtually guaranteed, judging from the support, almost worship Colón had received from him just ten months before on their first landing. It was at his urging and assistance that Colón was able to ‘invite’ the twenty-nine captives to visit Hispania.
He would, he decided, keep the remaining Taino captives on Borikén, and claim that Guadalupe and Nigari had perished from the disease that had ravaged many of his own men, as well as so many of the Taino. Another lie, but one that would keep their deaths from destroying the potential goodwill and cooperation of the Taino chieftain before there was a chance to secure it. “This,” he further said to himself to console his continued guilty conscious, “would undoubtedly save many lives by avoiding an unnecessary war.”
While his captains were preparing for the morning’s early departure, Colón had time to reflect on all that had led to this moment, his actions and the actual reasons for these decisions or actions. He still was convinced that he was not, at base, an evil man. Further, he recognized his unique place, unique position, at this point in history to have a dramatic and lasting impact on the future of… nothing less than mankind.
Whether this was, indeed, the Orient of Marco Polo or a wholly new people, it was clear that he was the vanguard of the first substantial interactions between Christian Europe and these heathens. His coming actions would set the path for generations to come.
Truly his main, driving, and ultimate goal was bringing Christianity to every corner of the earth. However he was well aware of his personal need for recognition, wealth and prestige. He did not see these two as necessarily mutually exclusive. In fact, every example, every life experience showed him that only wealth and power gave freedom of choice. So many of those who had direct power over his actions during the planning phase of this venture, he considered fools. However, their wealth and his need of those funds, gave them all the power.
His demands of the Monarchs for a ten percent share of the profits from these new Spanish lands, as well as his title of Admiral, Viceroy and Governor were designed to give him status, that is, the wealth, prestige and power to no longer be controlled by or beholding to anyone.
If he was weak, if he did not, right now, take and keep control of these new lands, he could not control the future of these people. As counterintuitive as it may seem, he felt he had to subjugate these people in order to save them. Unless he could build the churches and schools, unless he could bring in the priests and teachers necessary, he could not bring these gentle, giving people to God. While others might feel he was meddling with a paradise of sorts, he had no doubt that he was on the right path and working in their best interest.
He also had no doubt that he would never have ordinarily given in to his captains in their rush to enslave the Arawak. It was his illness, his pain and fevers that resulted in his weakness and inability to lead. That would not happen again.
This huge misstep that ultimately led to the deaths of Franco, Guadalupe and Nigari, was heartbreaking. In fact, it was paralyzing if he dwelt on it too long. The story he would fabricate of their deaths being the result of disease did not bother him much, as it had no effect on the reality of their deaths. It only lessened the effect those deaths would have. No good could come from the truth being known by the Cacique and his wife, Kiskeya.
Before his mind could continue spiraling down into this unending loop, he finished his port and slid down between the covers and into blessed sleep.
Chapter 61) Navidad
With the prevailing winds coming from the east the ships made a spectacular sight. Sailing large with every sheet flowing, as the nine craft first approached the mouth of the bay where Martinez and Juan had been watching from.
Both paddled the canoa out into the path of the Mariagallante and each ship, following the example of the lead, turned to spill the wind from their sails, seeming to fold giant wings as the sails were taken in, before they continued on slowly with the current towards the small craft.
It was quickly discerned that the occupants were not Taino, and soon Colón, coming on deck, recognized what remained of his cousin, Captain Martinez. They were heaved aboard, the canoa and their paltry belongings left to the wind and currents.
Quickly Martinez and Juan Chico were down in Colón’s cabin, with Juan’s words tumbling over each other, as he fretted over his treasure floating away in his canoe while he tried to describe the trap that awaited them at Navidad. Martinez was mostly silent, acutely aware of, and self-conscious of the horrified stares his visage had produced and the apparent lunacy of his companion. But his desire to secure his place as Colón’s ally and deliverer from this situation, overcame his reticence and he soon bade Juan be quiet and calm as he took over the narrative, giving Colón a clear account of the situation and the strength of his foes, as had been expressed to him over the last few days by Juan.
“They plan to welcome you with a fine feast with plenty of drink and lull you and your men into complacency and a false sense of security.” began Martinez.
“After plying your men with wine the women will try to lure many of the men off where they will be killed by Taino warriors and relieved of their weapons. Their ultimate plan is to have the remainder of your men completely surrounded and unarmed at dawn, and taking all of you captive.”
Colón, both astonished and infuriated at Lieutenant Lliago’s treason and Guacanagari’s bad faith, was stunned into silence for a few moments. He suddenly roared for Captain De La Cosa, shouting orders for the ships to turn about and tack back to the large sheltered bay they had left an hour earlier. It would take several hours going against the current, as they would have a long port tack far out to sea, with an even longer starboard tack back into the bay, but it would allow the ships to lay safely at anchor while he held a council of war with all his captains.
Chapter Next) Back to and Guacanagari
Colón knew it was an impressive sight, and the signal fires being lit on the hills as they ran along the coast would have let Guacanagari know of their coming. With the massive Spanish Cross emblazoned on his fore-mast square sail and the following cloud of sail as they slid placidly down the coast, Colón felt truly at the forefront, the vanguard of Christ in these new lands.
In a flurry of sail, the ships all came about in succession, a rare northwest afternoon breeze allowing them to sail large into Guacanagari’s bay, a spectacular and impressive return to Navidad.
Lining up the roof of the chieftain’s home with a peak beyond Colón had a clean run in with the inflowing tide. He had informed his captains that there was anchorage in seven fathom water, a little over forty feet deep, just a cable’s length, or six hundred feet from the shore. They would give each other enough space to anchor from the bow and swing with the changing tide. His flagship would anchor from the bow and stern, broadside to the beach where they would land with their canon in evidence.
As they passed the spit of rock that made up the western edge of the bay, each ship would fire a canon, both as a salute and a warning. The ship’s boats would be lowered in unison with two waves of soldiers landing, the second covering the first from just outside the wave that would land the forward boats. These three-hundred soldiers would then form up the honor guard that would accompany Colón as he approached the Great Cacique. From there they would have to see what welcome was given and plan from that point. With the Taino leader under the guns of the Hispanics, Colón had no doubt he could keep the Taino in line while he the Cacique spoke.
They could hear the conchs announcing their arrival and the bayohabao drums setting up a rhythmic background. A large shaded pavilion had been set up on the flat of the beach, with Guacanagari himself on a raised dais, and a guard of twelve of Lliago’s soldiers, several in armor and holding muskets, as well as forty powerful Taino warriors dressed and armed impressively.
Lieutenant Lliago was upfront and clearly visible.
Above the crude fort waved an equally crude, but recognizable, flag. It was the new flag of Isabella and Ferdinand’s united kingdoms of Castile, Leon, Aragon and Sicily, with a white crown above, the Crown of the Catholic Monarchs, Lliago’s attempt to show his people’s fidelity. A large, new Taino roundhouse was in evidence directly attached to the fort where Colón correctly assumed his men now lived. “Further evidence of the friendly cooperation of the two groups,” assumed Colón.
The boats were all landed in perfect order, with five columns of thirty men each to either side of Colón, as exact as loose sand and an incline would allow.
Lliago and his soldiers approached with military precision to welcome Colón and the two men embraced after eight months of separation. “This is not the sour Basque youth I left behind,” reflected Colón, “ he is clearly in command here.”
“Give me a succinct summary of how things stand,” whispered Colón as the two began the walk towards the waiting Guacanagari, led by Lliago’s men and flanked by the Spanish honor guard.
“We lost over half the men to a horrible disease, including Captain Martinez and Father Alonzo I am afraid,” quickly stated Lliago, “but with the help of the Taino and the grace of God the rest of us were not infected or recovered with only slight remaining effects.”
“And what have you discovered?” asked Colón with a gleaming, predatory eye.
“We have only separated twenty pounds or so of gold, a treasure in itself, as I will show you in the tent, but have a half dozen very promising mine locations. Copper is everywhere, and the fertility of the ground, the weather and the plentiful water will allow growth of any crop imaginable. This is paradise,” he finished in genuine enthusiasm!
“… and relations with the Taino?” quickly asked Colón, as they were within thirty feet of the chieftain. “I have married his daughter.” was the quick answer, a reassuring smile and pat of the back, the last words of Lliago as they came before Guacanagari and his wife Kiskeya.
Nearly twice the size of Colón, Guacanagari rose and smothered him in a hug, then, grasping both his shoulders turned him one way then the other as he kissed him on both cheeks with a manic, beaming smile on his face. “Welcome Admiral Colón,” he boomed. “God has returned you to us safely!” Kiskeya then stepped forward with a severe, hard face and kissed him on both cheeks as well, saying nothing. Lliago presented Allemanda, his wife, who simply bowed her head towards him, equally severe. Lastly he introduced Cuan, the chieftain’s eldest son who, like his father both embraced then kissed Colón on each cheek, although not so robustly as his father. With Kiskeya, Cuan, Allemanda and Lliago seated on his right facing the ocean, Guacanagari bade Colón sit on his left in a chair placed at roughly ninety degrees to his so they might see each other as they talked. Colón waved a hand to Captain de la Cosa, who brought forward a basket containing gifts for the rulers. He presented Guacanagari with a gilded, yet stunning, crucifix on a plated gold chain. He presented Kiskeya with a much smaller crucifix along with a small bolt of crimson silk material.
After appropriate thanks Guacanagari clapped his hands once, almost inaudibly, and Taino began arriving bearing an unending flow of food and drink, interspersed with gifts of caged fowl, baskets of uncooked cassava, and all the produce the island had to offer to re-supply the ships.
Lastly were two heavy wooden boxes, a foot square and eighteen inches deep, Intricately carved, but most importantly, filled with gold ingots in the shape of the musket round shot. Lliago shrugged with an embarrassed look, “They were the only casts we had!” Colón laughed out loud with pleasure.
With various communications with Captain de la Cosa, Colón released the largest part of the soldiers to join the feast that Guacanagari indicated was for all, keeping sixty on alert at any given time. The boats began ferrying back and forth with Colón’s other captains and the largest part of the remaining sailors. A skeleton crew would be left on board, but in shifts so that all might participate.
The Hispanic sailors and soldiers had been strictly warned to limit themselves to one drink of the Pulque or of mobi, a fermented beverage similar to beer made from the sweet potato tubers. This would steel them for the evening’s work of securing the Taino leaders and fighting off any Taino counter attack, while not impairing them.
Although Captain Martinez was sure that the attack on Colón and his men would not take place until later, after his men had all been plied with drink and disarmed, Colón and his captains were on the lookout for any signs of imminent danger from the Taino.
As expected, Guacanagari asked after his people, with unfeigned eagerness to see his son. Not wanting any check to the happy flow of spirits and harmony, Colón lied that they would be arriving the following week in more ships that were following. Another spur of the moment lie, but an issue much easier to deal with later. The uncertainty of the whereabouts and safety of his son and niece would perhaps keep Guacanagari from acting precipitously.
Colón asked Lliago after Father Alonzo, who he explained had also been lost to the plague, after such long and loving care over the ill. Lliago was a little surprised at Colón’s lack of reaction or concern.
There would be singing and dancing into the night Guacanagari stated. “We have been having extraordinary success in beating back the Caribe who had been preying on our western borders recently. The majority of my warriors”, he added, “were out there now looking for a decisive victory to end this threat.”
Colón had, of course, noticed the relative emptiness of the village and lack of the masses of ferocious Taino males they had encountered in their first landing. There were plenty of Taino women and children present, however, and Colón observed with satisfaction that they were dressed much more modestly than previously. He felt that the sailors had been sufficiently cowed after the Arawak fiasco, but the less temptation placed before them the better. Although the sailors and soldiers looked on with longing, they appeared to be behaving themselves.
Colón had been drinking mobi that was very refreshing and went well with the fish, a very nice dorado, he was enjoying with some sort of berry relish. Guacanagari, with Lliago translating, talked almost incessantly, almost to the point of annoyance, describing their first battle with the Caribe, their complete success and the capture of the two war canoe. Colón was certain that Guacanagari’s incessant chatter was the result of nervousness.
He was also sure that the Taino warriors were not off fighting Caribe, but were preparing for the dastardly attack on the Christians who had come to help them.
He became aware that many of Guacanagari’s relatives were also missing, including the Shaman, Doguao and the patriarch, Humacao of the family he came from. These relations had been close allies of Colón’s on his previous visit and were usually present at large gatherings or celebrations. Without Doguao’s support, it would have been much more difficult to return to Hispania from his first voyage with Taino guests, and Colón had looked forward to the shaman’s support now.
He perceived a strange hesitation, perhaps even sadness, from Guacanagari on his asking after them, and felt that Guacanagari’s hesitant explanation of a family disagreement rang untrue. He would be sure to question Lliago later about this. It made him somewhat uneasy but he was not sure why.
He did not have to wait long. Guacanagari had walked off with Kiskeya to view the ships strung out in the bay as the sun was setting. It was certainly a noble site. The clouds appeared as if spread with a trowel over the sky, reflecting reds and purples into the sea. As usual, but always striking phenomenon, every detail of the ships, nearly a thousand feet away, was perfectly clear without any glare to interfere. The few sailors left aboard could be easily seen down to the color of their caps, the anchor ropes, even the individual rigging lines could be clearly discerned in this light.
But Colón had many questions and immediately set upon Lliago for as much information as he could gather, to determine his course of action. So far he had simply gone along with the tide, but had planned that before dark he would take firm control of the island and make it clear that he, Colón, was in charge.
“We had much trouble at first, of course,” began Lliago, with a pained look at the remembrance. “The plague was swift and terrible; we doubted any of us would live through it! But with Mendoza’s leadership and father Alonzo’s faith, strength and guidance, along with the help of the Taino healers, almost half are alive with no signs of recurrence these five months now.” Colón was perfectly aware that Captain Mendoza was probably more trouble that he had been worth, but did not bother to correct
“We then ran into some trouble with a few of the men accosting Taino women, culminating with the rape of a Taino noblewoman. That sailor, Ignacio Florez by name, was brought before Guacanagari who, without a word, struck his head clean off with a single mighty blow from his war club. Those shark’s teeth are as sharp as any steel” finished Lliago.
“And you did nothing to stop this murder of a subject of Spain?” interrupted Colón in incensed astonishment.
“Twelve very weak and meagerly armed men against thousands of angry fierce and strong Taino?” replied Lliago a little testily. “In truth I cannot believe the rest of us were spared!” protested Lliago.
He quickly went on, “Since then, however, it has been peace and cooperation. Each of us has taken a wife in the Taino fashion, for the most part widows from the Caribe incursions, and each has been given a plot of land to farm. Four of us at any time are at the fort in alternation, with the other eight spending two nights running at their own home.”
Again Colón angrily interrupted, “You talk of being ‘given’ wives and land, as if we are paupers begging for handouts! We must change this attitude and arrangement. Starting tomorrow, these people will be brought to realize that they are subjects of Isabella and Ferdinand, and all good will come to them from the loving generosity of their Catholic Majesties!” he fairly snarled. Colón took note of the sun sinking towards the horizon and began looking for the right opportunity to act.
Lliago bowed his head in angry submission and went onto what he hoped would be happier news. “We had anticipated livestock and so have found wonderful grazing in a valley less than a league from here, with a clear, year-round river and grass to a cow’s belly. With a fence of just a furlong, six hundred sixty feet, we will be able to keep them enclosed. There is virtually no need for shelter for the animals and there are no predators large enough to harass them.”
“Yes, yes,” said Colón impatiently, strangely agitated to Lliago’s eye, “we left them on an island a short week’s sail from here.” Colón felt no need or desire to tell of the Arawak captives and the rest of that sad, squalid tale, and eagerly pushed on to questions of Guacanagari’s strengths and weaknesses.
“Guacanagari’s strength and weakness is one and the same thing.” stated Lliago becoming nervous himself at Colón’s growing tension. “All of his people are fiercely loyal to him. His only dissenters were dealt with months ago and so now, if you control Guacanagari, you control them all. By keeping control of his niece and son as you have done, possibly by securing a few more hostages, and by intermarriage into the family, you will control him as the intermarriages and mutual hostages maintain peace throughout and between kingdoms in Europa,” stated Lliago flatly, noticing that Colón was barely attending.
“Sí, sí,” replied Colón thoughtfully, momentarily thinking of the loss of Lupe and Nigari and the possibility of continuing the charade of their being ‘guests’ on another island to control Guacanagari. Lliago was correct, he would need a few more hostages, he mused to himself. “…The oldest son, Cuan, and perhaps the young princess Cassia, who Guacanagari and his wife were obviously enthralled with. Neither he nor Kiskeya seemed able to keep from continually checking on her” he thought.
His scheming was interrupted as Guacanagari and Kiskeya returned from their brief walk. “We would enjoy an afternoon aboard one of your fine ships,” Guacanagari said while approaching. He spoke in Taino with Lliago interpreting. They looked at each other in confusion as Colón completely ignored them, seeming rudely distracted.
Colón had concluded that now was the moment to act.
Chapter 63) Franco
I awake suddenly in a state of panic and confusion with no idea why. The air is finally cool, with red rays of dawn poking through the chinks in the shelter’s walls where the upright logs come together. It seems I had been asleep but minutes, even though I had fallen asleep the previous afternoon, and it takes a few moments to remember even where I am. The lay of the shelter and the sleeping forms of my companions bring it all back in a rush… I am in a new world, across the Atlantic from my home and family in Jerez, Spain. I strain my senses to determine what has awoken me. I believe I might have heard cutoff cries and perhaps even gunfire. I sit up quickly and listen intently, yet hear nothing but the crackle of a distant fire. In my deep exhaustion following the past week of almost un-relieved effort and striving, I lie back down and start to drift off, and notice absently that the early light of dawn was shimmering red and gold. Only a dream…
Just before full sleep, my mind clicks on the fact that it is now utterly, unnaturally silent, as if the whole world is holding its breath. No birds, no buzz of insects… nothing but the fire that, even as I listen, gains in intensity. As my mind begins to clear the cobwebs of sleep away, I realize that the light is coming from the wrong direction to be dawn. I jump up with a start once again, much more alert this time, and pull my clothes to me. I pad quietly across the sand floor of towards the doorway, hoping to not awaken my companions, although they are beginning to stir some. Looking out on the Bay of Marién, I am stunned by what I see…
Like the pillar of fire that led the Israelites through the desert, a gigantic blaze from one of many ships shoots hundreds of feet skyward, completely illuminating the frozen battle scene below.
As the rulers, in some consternation, took their seats, Colón gave a signal to his captain and walked around to stand behind them. Without warning, the Castilian soldiers raised their guns and, without warning, executed the forty men of Guacanagari’s guard while others surprised the twelve Basque of Lliago, clubbing them senseless and secured their weapons.
Lliago and the Cacique suddenly found themselves with several guns each aimed at their chest, while all weapons were placed far beyond their reach. They were painfully aware that they had waited too long to spring their own trap and were paralyzed by this abrupt act of violence.
When the gunfire began, the nearly one-thousand Taino who had been serving and feasting among the soldiers broke and ran in every direction scattering food, drinking vessels and cook fires in their abrupt yet eerily soundless flight.
Cuan had been brutally clubbed down as he and Allemanda were rushing their mother to safety. Lliago was desperately looking for Allemanda. He espied her escaping with her mother, but watched in horror as, just before reaching a small copse of trees, she was struck to the ground by a shot hitting the back of her head, a spray of blood fogging the air as she fell.
It took three to hold back Lliago as he struggled to reach his wife, a brutal smash of a musket butt to his head, rendering him unconscious.
In moments it seemed to be over. Colón and his captains, surrounded by their soldiers, with the Taino leader, his eldest son, the head of the renegades, and Lliago in their custody, had clearly won the day. It had gone just as smoothly as Colón could have wished. All now was strangely, surprisingly silent.
New Chapter- Allemanda
I seemed to have been falling forever but never reached the ground. I sensed that something was terribly wrong but was only aware of this vaguely. It would be comfortable to rest a while once nestled in the jungle below.
There had been a blow from behind, I dimly sensed, but I was now comfortably floating, or perhaps gliding over the bay and onto the sand, and it seemed quite natural. I somehow came to be walking along Marién Bay, towards what had been our village, an eerie smoking group of shapes in the near distance.
I was not shocked to see that the buildings had been burnt with only a blackened beam or ridgepole poking out through the vegetation that appeared to have been growing and covering the remaining wreckage for years.
A few Taino remained in the mostly abandoned city, living with the wild dogs roaming the walkways and pathways I knew so well, ghosts of their former selves with the marks of the devastating disease that had ravaged the Basque, almost a lifetime ago it seemed. They picked through the bones of the dead, mostly dead themselves.
Appearing before me was my great grandmother, who had passed when I was but ten years old. Though blind with age, she would sing ancient songs to me in her croaking, loving voice while plaiting my thick hair, chanting tales from the days before we came to the island from the lands to the south. I could sense that she bore a massive weight on her bowed shoulders, her body also showing the ravaging effect of disease.
She took my hand silently, her sadness a physical thing, and we walked but a few moments to a place I knew to be days away. We found ourselves in a stone city filled with an unending mass of Ari, the enemy, foreign peoples of Colón, as well as all their filth. Their reek permeated everything, sea, sky and land.
My own people were also there, but were uniformly emaciated and sickly. Theirs was the smell of death.
The men were bound with the iron of the Hispanics, hands and feet, and were shuffling into deep caves in the earth never to return, I knew. Our clearly debauched women, in the filthy rags of the invaders, were hanging on the arms of the enemy, laughing, but with eyes of desperation, despair or worse yet, blank and absent.
Their despair, the hopelessness of all my people was infecting my own soul, and I began sobbing, weeping, inconsolable. My tiny nephew, not recognizing me, was now pulling on my hand for attention. I looked into his fevered, terrible, sunken eyes as he whispered hoarsely, “save us!”
My great-grandmother would go on to show me the total price of the Hispanic invasion, and death was not nearly the worst of it.
As he came back to consciousness Lliago was vaguely aware of the magnitude of the tragedy. Only Kiskeya appeared to have escaped. Cuan’s body had been dragged away and thrown with the stack of Guacanagari’s dead honor guard, the great chief himself a massive, inert heap, with obvious trauma to his bleeding head.
Lliago only had acute awareness, however, for the body of his lovely Allemanda, taking no notice of Colón and his men, as they secured their position and silence fell.
As he watched, the blood flow that had been running down her hair, spreading past her eye and nose and across her bronzed cheek slowed its spread. He imagined the last or her life-force leave her body as the last of her life-blood drained away. He could not bear it, and an overwhelming sadness and helplessness seized him. He wept bitterly, still held down on the ground by his captors on the sand. He could not wipe away the blinding tears, as his hands were bound, but found himself blinking furiously to clear his eyes.
Unbelievably, shocking beyond comprehension, he noticed Allemanda’s eyes were now open and filled with both fury and tears. He was sure they had been closed, but they were now fixed piercingly on Colón! The fierceness was palpable and terrifying, coming from that bloody mask that was barely recognizable as human.
We had arrived in Marién two days past, having landed on the far side of the island in the neighboring Cacique of Maguey that shared its northwest border with Marién’s southeast. There apparently had always been great relations between the two Caciques who, I had learned, shared a common ancestry just two generations past. I had also learned of Guacanagari’s resounding defeat of the Caribe and, with his prestige growing immensely, the Maguey’s leader was anxious to return the son and niece of Guacanagari to him quickly and safely.
Accompanied by a troop of forty fierce warriors, we were quickly guided over the mountain paths that separated the two Cacicazgos, a three-day journey. I intended on revisiting this area when time permitted. With my admittedly limited travel, I had never visited a more beautiful local. At the pass we were in gorgeous pine forests with many lakes and abundant wildlife. There were also views far out to sea, with islands in every direction, wisps of clouds seeming to form on many of their summits headed west.
Guacanagari was overcome with joy on being reunited with his youngest son, as well as his namesake niece Guancaa, the daughter of his eldest sister. Overwhelmed, this typically stoic and emotionless sibling fainted in a swoon upon seeing her beloved Guancaa, having resigned herself to never seeing her daughter’s beautiful face again.
I remained in the background, enjoying this reunion while stifling my impatience at informing the Cacique of the coming disaster that was Colón. After a quarter of an hour, I was about to insert myself when Nigari called me forward to help him explain the current circumstances. I had just begun when Lliago Des Champs arrived with a lieutenant of sorts and a physician, Mateo Torrez and Father Alonzo, their spiritual leader.
We would plan, consult and discuss off and on during the coming days with all the leaders. We three arrivals, however, would stay in a small bohio outside the village, one that commanded a fantastic view of the yucayeque, the town of Marién and bay beyond. There were so many plans and alternate plans and what if’s discussed… I supposed we all simply had to wait and see as the situation unfolded and hopefully be prepared for any contingency. And now, looking out towards the bay in what was left of the day, I first noticed the ship ablaze. The pillar of fire that was her masts high-lighted the crowd of Taino running in every direction on the beach and the two groups of invading soldiers, one surrounding the Cacique, the other where the feasting had been taking place.
As Nigari and Guancaa reached my side, a cry arose from the Hispanic crowd, closely followed by the roar of the canons. We began as one to race towards town.
My spirit fairly crashed back into my body, and I was immediately aware of all that had happened, including the club blow or shot that had leveled me. It seemed I had been out for hours, shown Great Grandmother all that was soon to befall my people, but it had only been moments.
I did not look for or see my father or Lliago. With single-minded ferocity, I could only focus on one truth, COLÓN MUST DIE, and right now! …And by my hand!
The Admiral was giddy with his success, and he began to click off in his mind the coming steps needed to secure his position. He still had 0ne-hundred-thousand Taino to bend to his will.
Colón’s plan now was to use the Cacique, with Lliago as interpreter, to force the Taino into submission. The soldiers had quietly and efficiently begun to set up a perimeter defense. Everything seemed in hand and was remarkably ordered and almost silent. With each moment of calm came the growing assurance that he had conquered!
The captain of the guard was coming up with rope to secure Lliago and the unconscious Taino leader, when it all quickly unraveled. The first massive flight of arrows suddenly rained down on the camp, the rope bearer skewered cleanly through his exposed neck.
It was early evening, the sun having set just moments before, the arrows suddenly appearing out of a darkening, fiery red sky having even more of a psychological impact than physical. The screams of pain and the distinct sound of shafts entering flesh sent a panic through the soldiers. Most of the arrows glanced off of armor or sunk harmlessly into the sand, but there were many exposed arms and legs pierced, and a half dozen dead in that first wave.
There were less than twenty casualties, but with no one to return fire at and no idea if another wave was coming, along with the anguished cries of a few of their comrades, the soldiers foolishly clustered closer together for imagined protection.
Colón fairly screamed at Lliago to order his group to break off their attack, threatening the captives with immediate death.
A feeling of desperation suddenly overcame Colón like a physical wave. Not from the hidden enemy, but from some closer, maleficent force that would surely end him. Colón stumbled back in horror and fright as the obviously dead Princess Allemanda came off the ground in one fluid motion and with a mighty, piercing animal cry, launched herself at him from twenty yards away.
He stood transfixed; shocked by her ghastly visage and at her war club being wielded over her head to give the blade momentum. He noticed the firelight sparkle off the array of shark’s teeth imbedded in the leading edge of this beautiful, perfectly balanced and uniquely artistic weapon as it came around again, he knew intended for his exposed neck. This horrific and beautiful spectre brought to Colón’s stunned mind the stories of the Amazon women of legend, and he could not tear his eyes away or take any evasive action.
The moment seemed to hang in the air, and he became perfectly and minutely aware of everything around him as it seemed to slowly unfold.
Canon had opened fire from the jungle’s edge on the massed group of soldiers, the grape shot mowing down handfuls of men at each discharge. He briefly wondered how the massive guns came to be there.
In the bay he could see the farthest of his ships suddenly blaze up in a raging inferno, the masts and rigging like giant torches lighting up the bay as men jumped from the sides. This also lit up what seemed like hundreds of canoe converging on the various ships whose small arms fire was having little impact. He was, in passing, astonished that there was no longer cannon fire from the ships, but quickly realized the cannons could not be aimed to such a low point on the water.
Endless flights of arrow had begun to rain down on all his men, while the grape shot continued on in regular succession. Groups of soldiers in fives and tens would break for the trees, fatally slowed by the soft sand, only to be met by three and four times their number of fresh, club wielding, and uncontrolled Taino warriors, who would unmercifully hack them all to death, no attempt at taking prisoners.
Even the hand-picked troop of his sixty, armored, close guards were melting before his eyes. The two who had been tasked with holding their weapons on Guacanagari were looking to him in wild panic for direction, their guns only pointed loosely at the captive.
A group of two hundred plus maddened, frenzied, berserker Taino materialized fifty yards beyond Allemanda headed his way. With his peripheral vision he saw his two guards of Guacanagari swept aside as if swatted by a giant. Massive, heavy, five-foot bolts of wood fairly skewered them, right through their armor. Only a tuft of feather still showed.
After the initial fusillade came one shot from each cannon, spaced seconds apart. Most every gun had been fired from the Spanish ships towards the muzzle flash of the shore cannon but to no noticeable effect.
All was pandemonium, but even in his confusion he recognized that his actions, rather than securing his protection and power, had almost certainly guaranteed the total annihilation of his whole force. His men were running around without apparent order, no one leading.
His remaining men had thrown down their weapons and were begging for mercy, and he could hear Lliago’s booming voice calling for a stop.
This was the end of his awareness as Allemanda’s comanque war club came slicing through the air with a mighty crunch to his head, he, unable to make any evasive move. He dropped like a rock and knew no more.
Without a pause, this gruesome, beautiful apparition, her face bisected bronze and crimson, her hair matted and soaked with her own blood and gore, raced past the crumpled Colón, wrenching her club from his cloven head as she ran towards her father.
Throughout the last few minutes the Cacique had remained as still as stone. Although there were still some yells of command, some noise of fighting far off in the bay, it seemed silent compared to the cacophony of the short-lived battle. Guacanagari raised his head, and his fierce eyes met hers in victory and pride. Slowly however, the look turned to pain and fear. Glancing down, even in the deepening obscurity of evening, Allemanda could see her father was mortally wounded.
A bullet had struck him in the chest and blood was fairly gushing out. Kiskeya was suddenly kneeling in front of him, pressing cotton cloth to the wound with one hand while cupping Guacanagari’s face with the other, tears streaming down her face. Guacanagari alternately rested his head there and tearfully kissed the hand with murmurs of love. Slowly, his life force seemed to leave him.
Suddenly, his eyes opened and shone fiercely again as he locked eyes with those of Allemanda.
“It is you who must save the Taino!” he fairly roared. He grasped her left hand with his right and turned her to the gathering crowd of his people. Even sitting they were at much the same height. He sat up straighter, would have stood had he been able, and spoke in a loud booming voice…”Listen Good People! I am leaving you now to join my ancestors in the holy caves. I will always look over you!” He paused to catch a breath and stifle a wave of pain. “But you now will follow Allemanda, Cacique of Marién! Her wisdom and strength will keep you safe from these invading foreigners as well as the evil Caribe,” he finished, then fainted away.
He would not die for several hours, but these were the final words of the great Cacique, Guacanagari.
It had been a terribly difficult week following the destruction of the Spanish invaders. Only ninety-two of the Arì had survived, including Colón, who was still unconscious and expected to die at any time. A furrow an inch deep had fragmented pieces of jaw and bits of broken bones of his cranium pushed deep inside. His ear and a hand-sized chunk of skin and hair were gone.
The Ari were all being held in a large Bohio, awaiting the judgement of the new Cacique.
This morning we had accompanied the procession of Guacanagari’s bones up to the caves high above - close to the pass we had taken to reach Marién just a few days before. Kiskeya looked worn, tired and suddenly old, but neither cried nor spoke of her grief in public. She was on the arm of _______, Guacanagari’s sister, who was only slightly smaller than the departed ruler had been. She carried the bones of her brother in a large urn.
On a bier behind them, Cuan was being carried. From the damage inflicted when he had been clubbed down, he was still quite dizzy and would vomit whenever he tried to move on his own. He appeared to be slowly improving but it seemed like it would be a while before he was back in form. The honor of carrying him was shared by Allemanda’s newly formed personal guard.
Guancaa insisted I accompany her and Nigari, along with Nigari’s seven other siblings, and we came next. Ultimately, there came the new Cacique, Allemanda, with her consort, Lliago Des Champs. She would take the name Kiskeya, “Earth Mother”, once her own mother passed on. Her angry, fierce gaze was directed straight ahead. No one dared address her at present. She would be addressed simply as Cacique once they could.
There were so many big decisions to be made. What to do about the three hundred odd diseased Hispanics that had been left behind on Borikén? Or the cattle on Guadalupe that had been unloaded from the slave ships? What was to be done with the ninety-two captives? How were we to prepare for the coming Spanish invasion once Colón’s slave ships showed up in Madeira with their human cargo. What would be the fate of Colón, at whose feet the death of Guacanagari was firmly laid, no matter who had fired the shot that killed him. All these heavy questions would have to wait until the morrow, after Guacanagari was laid with his own parents, grandparents and ancestors. The grieving period would last a full month, but Allemanda knew she must make a few decisions long before then, to not lose the gains that Guacanagari had paid so dearly for.
I had quickly become an aide of sorts to Lliago, helping acquaint him with everything Colón. We sat in the cabin of the Mariagallante, sampling some of my father’s Sack while going through Colón’s records, letters and notes. The morning light came flowing in from its beautiful bank of windows in a graceful curve at the ship’s stern giving me an odd bit of nostalgia. He had been especially interested in my report to Colón and I had explained the details to him. The sugar cane in particular seemed to capture his interest.
“I only have a vague notion of how to extract the sugar from the cane, but a few shiploads sent to Englant or Holland right now is worth as much as any spice you could import from China.” I informed him.
No major decisions had been made to this point, but all agreed, including the Cacique of course, that looking to the ships and starting to put together crews of at least moderate proficiency was necessary, no matter the ultimate decision regarding Borikén or Guadalupe excursions. It was noted by Mateo that, overnight, their Cacicazgos and their Cacique had become the most powerful in the area simply by virtue of the canon, small arms, powder and shot she now possessed. Keeping these weapons portable would be huge. Having the ability to transport trade goods in such massive quantities could provide unheard of and hitherto undesired wealth and power. “But if that wealth and power could keep the Taino from being overrun by the Arì, it was well worth considering,” I had reasoned with Lliago, when a hail reached us. It had started from a distance, being repeated all along until the message reached us.
A stir of excitement could be heard echoing among the ships as a large canoa had entered the bay with six Europeans aboard looking for Colón. Lliago’s band of Basques were working on the ship that had burned, assessing the damage and likelihood of its being repaired. They directed the canoa to the Mariagallante.
Captain Juan Ponce de Leon boarded the almost silent Mariagallante, with his five comrades, the canoa standing by with its twenty odd oarsmen in the clear water, the sand perfectly visible in the light green-blue of the four fathom or twenty-four-foot deep water. The Arawak had been careful to wear none of the fearsome red or black paints of warriors, and no obvious arms were visible. Though there had never been fighting between these two groups, for them to enter the Great Guacanagari's domain looking anything but meek would have been a great insult, and perhaps suicidal.
Mateo, along with Juan Grande ushered them into Colón’s cabin. The burnt ship, the unrecognized crew aboard, and the lack of activity had all raised the awareness and caution of the group, but in their obviously distressed state they were compelled to meet as quickly as possible with the admiral.
De Leon recognized me at once as Colón’s aid, but the bearded shirtless Lliago not at all. As the six crowded into the cabin he almost rudely demanded to see Colón. I informed him that Colón was ill onshore and could see no one, but introduced them to “Captain” Lliago Des Champs. I had purposefully used a higher rank for Lliago, feeling that these Arì might speak with another captain, but would say nothing to a mere lieutenant.
De Leon angrily insisted that he meet with Colón immediately, that his (Colón’s) eight other ships were stranded on islands one-hundred leagues to the north, with most of the crew dead from disease and the balance starving. “All of the captured slaves have gone into the island’s interior. Time is of the essence if we are to salvage anything!” he almost shouted.
The cabin door opened again and Mateo and Juan Grande, with six other armed Basque entered relieving the Arìke of their swords and daggers.
A piratical gleam entered Lliago’s eye, “Then we must go rescue them,” he said with a crooked smile.
Ana and Guacaa
A terrific storm had come in the night, the torrential rain and fierce wind had scoured the land and sky clean, seeming to remove the last physical vestiges of the battle with the Hispanic Arike, the would be invaders.
This fresh morning, swollen clouds billowed across a white flect sea, reflecting the oranges and sepia of another dawn.
Ana and Guacca, walked hand and hand like two young girls along the strand, enjoying just being together again after the long worrisome absence of Ana’s younger cousin. Closer inspection would show Guacca becoming a stunning woman. It would also find Ana, though still young, somewhat worse for wear.
From the back left of her head, white hair had begun to grow in, covering the ghastly scar left by a Hispanic bullet. This streak of white hair through her otherwise raven locks, along with a livid scar along her cheek, would become her banner, a reminder to all her friends and foes how her reign began with war and victory. It gave her a terrible and fierce aspect, yet did not hide or overwhelm her beauty.
They were currently discussing Queen Isabella, an anomaly among European rulers.
“Although Ferdinand is a wise and strong ruler himself, Isabella is unquestionably the stronger of the two. They have known each other since children and Ferdinand fairly worships the Queen, following her lead and decisions unfailingly. Much like your Lliago,” added Guacaa with a sideways glance and a smile.
“She was appalled at the capture and treatment of our people at the hands of Colo’n and ordered him to return those of us that survived. She showed nothing but kindness and compassion to us.”
As Ana simply nodded her head, taking these words in, Guacaa continued,“ She seems to be trying to bring unity to all her people, an almost impossible task. Rather than one ‘people’ as we have here, she rules over numerous groups that have fought with and hated each other since time began. Imagine ruling over both the Taino and Caribe and have them live in peace?” finished the younger cousin.
“Yet she sends her soldiers to conquer and enslave us,” rejoined Ana, with a fierce gleam in her eye. “This God of hers has representatives such as Alonzo and Pane’ and they are fine. But he also has his Colon’s, Martinez’ , and his De’ Leons.” A strange kind of loving God.
“I think she has too many subjects spread out too far to keep control of the miscreants,” repined Guacaa,” she simply cannot see all that is happening.”
After a minute’s further stroll without comment...
“Perhaps she and I must have a long talk together,” mused Allemanda, Cacique of the Taino.