October 12, 1492
The sun sank below the starboard bow, and the deck of the small caravel began to cool down, as the little ship rolled on the long waves of the ocean. Juan Bermejo and his three friends sat propped against the railing near the bow. This was his favorite time of day. Most of the 21 able bodied seaman were on deck enjoying the air, until time to go below and climb into their hammocks.
Captain Pinzon and his four officers were enjoying an after dinner glass of wine in his cabin, and Fernando Mendes, one of the quartermasters, manned the helm. The sky was clear, and a gleaming half-moon was high in the black night sky. Juan had to admit, it was a very pleasant evening, in spite of the grumbling of the crew. He turned to Gomez Rascon and said,
“Well amigo, what do you think about our Captain General?”
“I doubt he knows where the hell we are. I’ve never known an Italian who could read the stars.”
Alvaro Perez stopped whittling a piece of wood and chuckled,
“I agree. Most of the crew has written him off as a glory seeking Dago idiot. At least Pinzon is from Andalusia and has sailed in the open ocean before. The Dago has never been out of the Mediterranean.”
The fourth man, Anton Calabres shook his head and said,
“Dago idiot he may be, but he managed to convince the King and Queen to pay for all of this.”
Juan shifted position and replied,
“That’s true, and most of the men that are grumbling now signed on to share in the great riches he described to our Sovereigns. We are probably the only ones who had another reason to sign on.”
“Yeah, thanks to your temper. If you hadn’t killed Peron we’d all be sailing with a merchantman and making a living wage,” countered Gomez.
Juan sighed and replied,
“That son-of-a bitch needed killing.”
“That’s true,” agreed Anton,“ and we were glad to help you escape the Policia. We just weren’t fast enough. We’d still be rotting in that damned dungeon if the Dago hadn’t needed seaman.”
Juan nodded in agreement, then took his pipe out and began to fill it with twisted bits of hemp. He stood and walked to one of the running lanterns that had been lit, then stuck a short piece of rope under the glass. Once he had a flame, he lit his pipe and settled back against the rail.
Alvaro shook his head and said,
“Juan, make sure that damn rope is out. The last thing we need is to set this tub on fire.”
Juan gave him the universal hand sign to stick it, and quietly puffed away. Finally, he said,
“Do any of you think we’ll actually find India?”
Anton snorted and said,
“Not for a moment. My guess is we’ll keep on sailing west till we run out of food and water, and we’ll all die on this rat infested scow.”
“C’mon Anton, if the world is indeed round, either we’ll find India or some other unknown land before we get there. You do believe its round, don’t you?”
“Round or square, it doesn’t matter if you have no idea where you are.”
They kicked the round world concept around for awhile until Juan tapped his pipe against the scuppers and stood saying,
“You all can stay up all night if you want to, but I’ve got the mid-watch, and I need to grab some sleep.
He lowered himself through the open hatch and nearly choked on the smell. They had been living in close quarters for five weeks since leaving Cape Verde, and two dozen unwashed bodies could get pretty rank. He climbed in his hammock and fell into sync with the rolling of the ship, then fell fast asleep.
He awoke to the quartermaster shaking him, and rolled onto the deck. He slipped his sandals on, and climbed to the deck just as the ship’s bell rang out the mid watch. He made his way to the bow, and took the spyglass from the sailor he was relieving and asked,
“Anything going on?”
The man replied,
“Same old same old, but it’s a nice night. Plenty of moonlight, a warm wind, and nothing to do but watch it all. Have a nice night.”
“You too,” Juan replied, and took a seat on a hatch cover and looked across the bow toward the west.
The sailor was right, there was an abundance of ambient light, as the moon began to dip below the western horizon. He got comfortable, and swept his eyes back and forth across the western stretches of the ocean. The waves were throwing off small white caps that flashed in the setting moonlight. Juan started to light his pipe, when he picked up the fecund aroma of vegetation.
He stood, went to the port side of the ship, and sniffed the quarter wind. There it was, the smell of land. He went to the bow and looked due west, but saw nothing but glimmering white caps. Juan, like most sailors in the late thirteenth century, had seldom been out of the sight of land, and they knew what a distant shore line looked like. Juan strained his eyes, but all he could make out was a dark smudge just off the starboard bow.
The moon had dipped just below the horizon, but the earth’s atmosphere held its fading glow on the horizon. Juan pulled the spyglass to its fullest length, then focused it on the smudge. At that very moment, a flash of heat lightening outlined the unmistakable shape of distant palm trees.
Just as two bells began to ring out, he thought to himself,
That lucky Dago bastard was right, that sure looks like India to me.
He watched for a moment longer, then shouted,
“Land, land to the starboard bow!”
The Captain of the Pinta fired a Lombard to alert the other two ships, and he had a boat lowered, then he and Juan rowed to the flagship. They were met on the deck by Christopher Columbus himself. After Pinzon made his report to the Captain General, he added that Juan had earned the lifetime pension offered by Queen Isabella to the first man to spot India.
The Captain General smiled and said,
“I’m sorry. Earlier tonight I observed a light coming from land off the starboard bow. It seems that I will receive the pension.”
Captain Pinzon stood with his mouth open, and Juan spit over the side and muttered under his breath.
“Never trust an Italian.”
Ships image is licensed under CC By 4.0 — linked to en.wikipedia.org
Categories: Flash Fiction