The Golden Conquest – Part 5

Father Garcilosa turned to speak to Henrico but the young man had already hurried into the inn. The priest frowned and shook his head. There was a sadness about the lad, a deep pain from some yet unknown source. The Lord knew, however. The priest would just have to wait.

            As they packed their belongings into burlap sacks, the novice pointed to a wooden chest bound with iron straps. “This also, Father?”

“Yes, a gift from the Bishop of Cadiz. A new set of priestly vestments and a set of silver Eucharist vessels.”

“What a fine gift. You must be pleased?”

            “Pleased? I suppose, though the gift is actually too—ah—ostentatious for me. A wooden mug or clay cup would do just as well. Oh, I know that many need these symbols to reach out to God and I am willing to accommodate them. But such things could also be a barrier if men chose to concentrate solely on the symbol and miss the reality behind them.”

“I not sure I understand, Father.”

“True communion with God is spiritual, not a physical. In the heart, not the mind. But come, there is a boat waiting to take us out to Quintero’s ship. We will talk again later.”

            The skiff was waiting for them at the quay and carried them out to the Gabriella. With the sailors help them clambered aboard the ship and moved toward the stern where a small group of men had gathered around Captain Quintero.

            “This is absolutely unacceptable,” the pair overheard as they came nearer. The speaker was a tall pale man, almost gaunt in stature and dressed in the stark black robes of a Dominican friar. While Henrico and the other monk both were dressed in black, the novice’s cassock, like the priest’s was made of coarse wool; the Dominican’s of fine linen edged with silk. A heavy gold crucifix hung around a neck seemingly too thin to support the large head perched on it. Sparse white hair fringed a skull covered by sallow parchment-like skin while dark eyes glared out from either side of a hawkish nose. He seemed less of a man of God and more of a malevolent black stork. The Dominican spoke again, “You must correct this problem immediately. Do you not know who I am?”

            “Yes,” Captain Quintero said with a sigh, “I know. But this ship simply does not have the space to give you your own cabin.”

            “Is there a problem, Senor Captain?” Father Garcilosa interjected in respectful tones, “Perhaps I can be of assistance.”

“Ah, Father,” Quintero said, relief flooding his features, “We have some difficulty with the sleeping arrangements. I had planned to put you in my cabin while your colleague stayed with the mates. But now we have our extra—ah—guests.”

The Dominican cast a baleful eye on the priest and scowled. “So, you are here, de la Vega. We have not met but I have been told . . . about you.”

“And I also am aware of you, Brother. This young man is Brother Henrico, a Benedictine novice who is my assistant and is to accompany us. Henrico, this worthy is Brother Sebastian of the Office of the Inquisition.” Father Garcilosa gave a quick shake of his head at the novice’s sudden look of anxiety and Henrico glanced away. The frown on Brother Sebastian’s face darkened as he glared at the novice with obvious distain. At that moment another man stepped forward from beside the Inquisitor and gave an elaborate bow.

“If I may be so bold, Father,” the young man declared, “I am Ponce d’Amarco, late of the Royal Guard and now assigned to accompany Brother Sebastian. I am most pleased to make your acquaintance.” He added an almost impertinent emphasis to the ‘I’ in his statement and winked at two companions. His lips were curled in an amused smile as he glanced back and forth between them.

The newcomer was elaborately dressed in the latest style in a doublet of black silk with a fine gold brocade. A short black cloak was draped over his shoulder, its rich scarlet lining flashing through whenever he moved. His hose was also of black silk while the short Italian trousers he wore were parti-colored gold and black. A dark beret with an extravagant ostrich plume was perched rakishly on his head. His left hand rested on the gold and jewel encrusted hilt of his sword while his other held a silken ivory handkerchief which he now held before his mouth as if to stifle a laugh.

“Captain Quintero,” the Dominican continued, ignoring his companion though a faint line of crimson could be noted growing above his neckline, “I must again demand proper accommodations.”

“Demand?” Quintero sputtered, “Who do you think . . .” Father Garcilosa again intervened, placing a restraining hand on the captain’s arm. Smiling, he spoke softly, “Perhaps I can offer a solution. If you are agreeable, Brother Henrico and I could both share your cabin. A small corner or piece of decking would suffice for us. Then Brother Sebastian and Senor d’Amarco could have the mate’s cabin. Would that be acceptable?”

“That would be most acceptable to me,” d’Amarco laughed, “My Lord Inquisitor and I should be most content as cabin-mates, would we not?” Brother Sebastian continued to scowl fiercely but gave a short nod of agreement. Without a word, he turned sharply away. A nearby sailor quickly responded to his captain’s gesture and led the monk towards the stern cabins while another followed with his baggage. The courtier smiled and with a second elaborate bow followed the Dominican.

Father Garcilosa watched in silence as the two men departed. A worried look crossed his face before he turned to the Captain and Henrico. Shaking his head, he sighed. “I’m sorry you’ve been troubled, Alonzo. And I fear that this will not be the last complaint that you may hear from Brother Sebastian. He has a reputation for being—ah—difficult.” 

“Well my friend, once we’re at sea he’ll learn very fast who the captain of this ship is. If he doesn’t then he had better learn how to swim!” Quintero gave a wicked grin to the priest and excused himself to attend to his duties. The two clerics carried their baggage to the captain’s cabin and only when they were behind closed doors did Henrico break the silence.

“Why is the Church sending an Inquisitor on the expedition? There aren’t any Muslims or Jews in the New World, are there?”

“Not so loud, my son,” the priest said in a sharp whisper, “These walls are quite thin, and all ships are infested by a wide variety of vermin.” He leaned closer to the novice. “The Office of the Inquisition has broad powers and is always seeking to expand them. Some are genuinely concerned that various heresies and false doctrines may take root amongst the new converts across the oceans. Sadly, others are more concerned with wealth and power. They care more for temporal gold than for the spiritual variety. I fear that Brother Sebastian may belong to the latter.”

At that moment the ship gave a slight lurch and slowly but perceptively, began to move. They were underway and the seaboard portion of their journey had begun. The priest gave a smile warm enough to dispel all gloom and clapped the novice on the back. Gesturing to the door he continued, “Go my son, you’ll not want to miss seeing the Gabriella move out into the Atlantic.”

“And you Father? Will you come?”

“No, my son, I need to unpack some things. And I need to pray. Now go.”

Henrico stepped from the cabin into the bright sunlight to observe the organized chaos of a ship being set to sail. Harried figures swarmed over the deck and up into the riggings amidst the cries and curses of the ship’s officers. The clank of the capstan as the anchor was secured was quickly drowned out by the snap of canvas as the sails more fully caught the wind. The foresail and the main had been set and Quintero now ordered the topsails trimmed. Other sailors strained to haul the lateen mizzen into place. The wind was favorable and after their long delay in port the captain wished to make as much haste as possible.

The Benedictine novice was fascinated by the quick movements of the sailors as they scampered high into the rigging. He watched as they raced out onto the yardarms seemingly oblivious to the heights and as surefooted as a pack of monkeys. As more canvas filled with the wind the Gabriella surged forward with increasing speed. Captain Quintero had been forthright in his description of the ship. She had the appearance of a stout draft horse but she moved with the fluid swiftness of an Arabian stallion. Henrico leaned over the rail to stare at the sea foam being thrown up as the ship’s bow pierced the waves.

A sharp command from Captain Quintero caused the helmsman to swiftly spin the wheel. The ship sharply tacked to round the rapidly approaching headland. Momentarily thrown off balance by the sudden change in direction Henrico staggered away from the railing. Catching his foot on some coiled rope he attempted to regain his balance but became more entangled in his long woolen cassock and fell roughly to the deck. In the process, he toppled over a bucket of seawater bringing further embarrassment and discomfort upon himself.

“Easy lad,” a grizzled old sailor grinned as he grabbed his arm, “You’d best be staying in your cabin till we’re clear of the bay.”

“Get back to work, old man,” a harsh voice snarled. The Gabriella’s second mate stepped forward to roughly pull Henrico to his feet. “You’re needed aloft Pedro, so move it!”  His lips curled into an ugly sneer. “The men don’t have time to spend wiping the snotty noses of fools or brats. So, stay out of the way or I’ll have to teach you another lesson.”  Henrico tried to shake the seaman’s hand off but the bully only tightened his grip. Glancing over his shoulder Montoya noticed the captain watching them and his demeanor quickly changed.

“Careful now, lad,” he said, raising his voice so Quintero would hear, “We can’t have our passengers getting injured before we even leave Spain, can we? Here, let me help you aft where it’ll be safer.”  The Benedictine was at last able to slip from the mate’s grasp. Henrico stood for a moment, fists clenched and breath coming in ragged gasps before turning away. In his haste he stumbled again on the ropes and almost fell a second time. Heat rose once again into his face as he heard a jeering snicker escape from the second mate’s lips. Forgoing any attempt at maintaining a shred of dignity he sprinted to the stern cabin and slammed the door behind him.

            Henrico slumped against the doorframe, his eyes screwed shut while he tried to calm his breathing. Memories of older boys at Medellin came to him; memories of taunts and blows that would send him running to the comfort of his mother’s arms; and memories also of his father’s displeasure and his brothers’ scorn at his failure to stand up to the bullies. He could not turn to any of them now. There was no more sympathy or instruction that they could give him. For a moment he felt very alone.

            Then a strong gentle hand was laid upon his shoulder and he opened his eyes to gaze into the face of Father Garcilosa. Seeing the quiet compassion cast upon the priest’s visage, Henrico found himself swallowing hard to fight back tears. Father Garcilosa led the novice to a bench and motioned for him to sit. He stood in mute prayer for a moment before saying, “I saw what happened on the deck, my son.”

            “I’m sorry, Father. I didn’t mean to shame you.”

            “There is no shame on your part. But I think I now understand why you had asked for instruction on the use of a staff.”  Henrico looked away, fearful that the priest would be angry.

            “My son, there is a path set before you. Soon you will have to choose which way you will take. You will have to decide what will rule in your heart. Will it be fear, anguish and doubt? Will it be anger, violence and revenge? Or will it be another way?”

            “But Father, you are a warrior. You have fought.”

            “Yes. Yes, I have. Sometimes rightly but also sometimes out of sin. To battle evil, to fight to protect widows and orphans, to uphold the truth; this is just. But to resort to violence for our own ends, for vengeance or out of pride; this is not the way of the Lord.”

            “I—I don’t know.”

            “I understand, Henrico. Just remember the Scriptures. Remember that Our Lord told us that we would be known by our love. Remember that we battle not against flesh and blood but against powers and principalities. Remember to pray.”

            “I will try, Father.”

            “That is all that I would ask, my son.”  The priest stood for a moment lost in thought, and then clapped the novice heartily on the back. “Come now, I think we should look into changing your garments to something more suitable for being at sea. Perhaps that will help you to avoid more—ah—incidents.”  The priest stooped to pull his baggage from under the bench. Opening the satchel, he produced trousers and a tunic, a new set of clothes for the novice, and held them aloft with a flourish. Henrico looked at the gift and smiled.

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