Friday, July 29, 2011

La Navidad

      Two months' sailing in the Far East. Colon squatted riggedly in the boat as six of the rowers pulled the small craft to the shallows of another island. This one had looked larger than most-- the coastline extended beyond the horizon both to the east and the west (from which the Santa Maria was pushed during the storm), but it was likely as worthless, the Admiral supposed.
      He had been expanding the search since the first of December-- the edge of discovery and novelty of uncharted lands began to wane for both himself and the crews; at the end of the bargain, the Crown had entrusted that this voyage would pay for itself in trade with the lands of the Great Khan upon reaching Cathay. As both a trader and a sailor, Colon was strained thin as neither venture could sustain itself much longer.
       There was likely another mutiny in the works, since the desperation began this month, he had personally killed four uprising leaders--"this was the price for manning a fleet with thieves and Jews." he had noted in his personal journal. Beyond beaches, trees, and fish, there had been now gold, no spices, and no men of any kind-- only the cacophony of the birds both day and night. Internally, Colon despaired, questioning the Almighty's love for his endeavor, and his own wisdom of the seas, ashamed to return to port empty-handed.
      He hopped off of he skiff, feeling his age with the motion which should have belonged to a man half his years. Do not falter, Christopher. Once the animals in the crew see your weakness of body and heart, they will strike you down. Suppressing a groan as his left ankle rolled in the mud, he strode to the beach, his hands empty. For the first islands, he came to each new shore gallantly holding the queen's colors, armed with a sword and a letter from the court to the eastern princes whom he expected to meet. Every new beach-head was a victory for Christ and Spain, with the wonder of the edge of the Earth on the eyes of every man who waded through the clear waters of the new lands.0
He still carried a sword-- and a hidden dagger-- but these were not for the defense against eastern barbarians to his front, but the rank sailors to his back. They will cut you in your sleep.

      This landing was muddier than most, owing to the swift-moving river two furlongs away, which had piqued his interest from the deck of the slowly-sinking flagship. Despite careful study of his scriptures, he could not understand the meaning of such punishment-- a storm of such incredible ferocity struck the small fleet yesterday on Christmas Eve, tossing the vessels as if they were children's toys in a pond. At the end, both smaller ships was relatively untouched, but the Santa Maria was struck with a broken mast, a slow and unfindable leak in the hull, and nine men claimed by the sea. Limping along the shoreline since midnight, he stopped the small flotilla at the river's head in the hope of finding signs of humanity.

      There were none. Colon knew the men would grumble behind his back for this; he felt the mutineers staring at his neck, the scum pawing at his cabin once he was killed. They would make haste for Spain, claiming that their valiant captain was lost on the journey west, but they--they--  the mighty sailors have found new lands and new riches. They would claim his titles and his heirs.

      "We strike the ship!" he called the the men pulling the skiff ashore. They looked at him quizzically, uncertain if the failed journey had finally driven the Admiral mad (one or two hoped he did as this fulfilled their 10 real gamble).

      "God has seen fit for this riverhead to be our landing! This shall be our first trading post for the great powers of the East, and you, my men shall live as kings in this new city, this new citadel of Christ in the Far West!" His gift for speech and salesmanship as the best inheritance of the Venetian trade.

      "We begin this Christmas day, with the ruins of our holy flagship to build our city, La Navidad."

      The men leaned on their knees, wondering at the sudden turn of their sullen captain. Those whose bets on his sanity weighed in the balance wondered if this was madness, folly, wisdom, or divine providence. Most just shrugged and prepared to return to the ship and run her aground.

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