Maya and Aztec

Ancient Mesoamerican civilizations


Category: Christopher Columbus




The convoy of five ships was sailing over the grey Atlantic to Lisbon. All five were heavily armed, for nobody knew who might attack them. A few of the ships flew the Genoan flag, but Christopher’s ship flew the standard of Burgundy.

For ten years Christopher had beep at sea, making little journeys in the Mediterranean. Dreaming of India and the ocean beyond, he had at last began to serve king Rene of Naples, and became a privateer. But he soon left the service which he did not like, and now sailed aboard a Burgundian vessel with cargo for Portugal — the land of King Henry the Navigator.

To starboard lay the dark coastline of southern Portugal. To port rolled the endless Ocean Sea. Suddenly there came the cry, “Sail ho!”

“Sail ho!” echoed through the ship. The skipper ran out of his cabin. Men went up the mainmast. Soon signal flags were seen on one vessel, then another. All had seen the thirteen ships approaching them from the north.

By the time they came near enough to see that the fleet flew both the flags of Portugal and France, it was too late. For the French king, Louis XI, was at war with Burgundy! This was enough for the French to consider all five ships their enemies.

There was nothing to do but fight. The enemy blocked off escape to the west and north. To the east lay dangerous reefs. And the convoy had already no time to escape to the south.

The skipper waved his sword and ordered his men to fight to the end.

The ship received a great blow from the enemy vessel which rode into her side. The enemy sailors threw their grapnels and tied two ships together. Then, shouting, they came over the gunwales. A hand-to-hand fighting began.

Christopher fought desperately, but deck by deck, ladder by ladder, he was pushed towards the stern. At last he was quite alone fighting against five of the enemy. There was a sudden hot pain in his shoulder and he fell.

He closed his eyes and waited for the final blow, but it did not come.

Christopher opened his eyes and saw no one standing. Along the decks were countless dead. Other men, wounded like him, tried to get up and cried aloud for help. He understood what had happened. Both ships, tied together, were going down. Every man who could stand had jumped overboard and was swimming desperately for his life.

Christopher rose with great difficulty and looked below. The sea was full of drowning men who did not stop shouting for a moment.

For a second he looked up to the west, across the bound­less Ocean Sea.

And then, too weak to jump, he simply leaned for­ward and fell head first into the water.

A group of Portuguese fishermen gathered round the body of the sailor on the beach. They wagged their heads in wonder. One of them pointed to an oar that lay near by, washed up by the sea.

“That’s how he came over the reefs,” the man said, “holding on to that oar!”

“Miraculous,” said another. “And badly wounded!”

“Look, he’s opening his eyes!”

They bent over him. An old fisherman leaned close. “Who are you?” he whispered.

He could say almost nothing. “Papa Domenico… Bartho­lomew… Genoa…” And then Christopher’s eyes closed. He was unconscious again.

“Well, he’s from Genoa,” said the old man. “What shall we do with him?”

“He needs care,” said a younger man. “And there are no doctors here in our village.”

“Let us dress his wounds as well as we can,” said one of the fishermen. “I am taking fish to Lisbon this morning and I will take him along. There is a colony of Genoese immigrants in Lisbon who will, of course, take care of a fellow-countryman.” Carefully they carried the wounded sailor up the beach. A few hours later he lay in the back of a fish cart going to Lisbon. A piece of cloth shaded him from the sun. Sometimes he awoke and cried out with pain.

When Christopher opened his eyes at last, he could not see anything clearly. Some minutes later he saw a circle of faces surrounding him.

The first one — was that not Paoli di Negro, a banker of Genoa? But di Negro had left Genoa many years ago, he remembered. His eyes passed to another face. This was a stranger with a serious face. By his clothing it was easy to tell he was a doctor.

Then his eyes passed to the third face. He stared. That dark, oval face! Those bright black eyes! It was not possible, and yet…

“Bartholomew!” he cried. “Bartholomew, little brother, is it truly you? I am home, then, in Genoa!”

Bartholomew bent over Christopher and gathered him into his arms. “You are truly home, Christopher,” he told him, “but this is not Genoa. It is Lisbon, Christopher, Lisbon!”

In the many weeks it took for Christopher to recover from his wounds, the two brothers talked a lot telling each other about their lives.

Bartholomew had come to Lisbon a few years before. He had been trained as a map-maker in Genoa, and as soon as he arrived in Lisbon he had opened a shop. He had very much work to do, along with many other Genoan map-makers who had decided to emigrate to Portugal. There was a large colony of Genoans — map-makers, bankers, merchants, sailors — who lived in Lisbon.

Prince Henry the Navigator had made Portugal a great maritime power. His sailors had discovered the islands off Africa called the Azores, and had gone south the Guinea coast of Africa. After Prince Henry’s death the exploration went on in the same way. Every year new expeditions left Lisbon to sail farther south down the African coast, looking for a way to the Indies.

A rich trade with the Guinea coast had begun. The Portu­guese caravels brought to the harbour bags of pepper, elephant tusks, gold and spices. Beautiful palaces and churches and mansions were being built all over Portugal.

Lisbon became a well-known town. Scholars, astrologers, merchants and mariners came to the city from everywhere in the world.

Bartholomew said, “You must stay here, Christopher. We will make maps together.” Christopher shook his head. “I don’t know,” he said. “I’ve been a mariner for so many years. I don’t know how I’ll work on shore.”

“A mariner!” Bartholomew was angry. “And what has it given you? You’ve almost lost your life and you haven’t got a florin in your pocket. You must begin your life again here, Christopher, now, with me.

Christooher did not answer and looked out of the window where from his bed he could see the broad T agus River flow­ing quietly out to the Ocean Sea

“I’ll think about it,” he said.

He really thought about it when he got well enough to go out. In his brother’s clothing Christopher walked along the docks of Lisbon and talked to the sailors. These were men who had seen much more than the little Mediterranean ports. Here were men who had voyaged north to Ultima Thule and Ireland, who had sailed along the African coast farther than anyone else had gone before. These men knew their job very well and many were graduates of universities. What chances for his own successes did he have among these sailors? He was an amateur without real experience…

Discouraged, he walked home. Bartholomew looked up from his maps and met him with a smile. “Well, sailor?” he asked.

Christopher sat into a chair feeling very tired. “If you help me, we’ll do as you wish,” he said.

Bartholomew jumped to his feet and danced round the workshop. He ran outside and removed the sign that hung outside the door. Then, from a cupboard, he pulled out another sign. It was a new one, freshly painted. It said:


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