Ferdinand Magellan and me (86)

Magellan’s demise

Pigafetta grieved for the captain general, noting in his journal ‘the armada has lost our guide, our light and our mirror.’ His loss was a calamity but perhaps there was more to it than religious fervour. Magellan would never have found peace however long he lived. Had he returned to Spain he would have faced condemnation for the executions in Port St Julian and for abandoning Cartagena, the bastard son of Bishop Fonseca, the most powerful official in the Casa de Contratatión. Imprisonment would be the least punishment and execution quite likely.

The armada was leaderless and diminished to three ships and 115 men, less than half the crew that sailed from Spain. A meeting in Trinidad’s great cabin could not agree on a successor to fill Magellan’s shoes. They compromised by electing Magellan’s brother in law, Duarte Barbosa, and Juan Serrano, his former shipmate as joint captains general. Magellan had always asserted a horse cannot have two heads. What were the prospects for a rudderless ship or a rudderless armada?
Duarte’s priority was to retrieve Magellan’s body, or what was left of it. Although he was by no means a devout Christian, he preferred his brother in law to be given a Christian burial and not eaten by savages. In the event, Lapu-Lapu responded he would keep the body as a symbol and memorial of the white man’s treachery. There was no information as to whether it would be eaten.

Duarte relied upon Henriqué for communicating with Rajah Humabon, who was disgusted with the failure of the Spanish Empire to defeat his enemy, Lapu-Lapu. But Henriqué considered himself no longer a slave now Magellan was dead. Indeed, he was back among his own race after ten years of slavery. Duarte considered Henriqué to have passed to Magellan’s widow, Duarte’s sister, along with the rest of his estate. In that case, Henriqué was now the property of Duarte.

“I am not your servant but Tuan Ferdinand’s and now he is dead I am a free man and am to be given ten thousand maravedis.”

“What impertinence. Get yourself ashore and take a message to the rajah.”

“Duarte,” Pigafetta said. “Henriqué is correct. I have seen the captain general’s testament. He is to be set free and given ten thousand maravedis.”

“Nonsense. All that legal stuff won’t be settled until we get back to Spain. Meanwhile, he will do what he’s told or I will have him flogged.”
Henriqué dragged himself to his feet and took himself sullenly ashore. He returned a couple of hours later with the news that Humabon had invited all the sailors to a banquet that very night.

The prospect of a banquet with plenty of wine and girls was popular enough to fill three boatloads and they began heading ashore soon after dark. Pigafetta found his most presentable shirt and pants and joined the queue on deck for a place in a boat, when Henriqué came up to him and said: “Tuan Antonio, it is better you do not go.”
“What? Why not?
“You have a wound on your forehead. It is better you do not go.”
“It’s nothing.”
“Please do not go.”

Henriqués intense manner caused Pigafetta to take him seriously. In puzzled apprehension he watched the boat pull away from the ship with its party-goers. A fire had been built in the public square between Valderrama’s tabernacle and the trading post still stocked with trade goods. The flames illuminated the backdrop of forest and silhouettes moved in front as they arrived from the boats and took their places for the banquet. Then his attention was caught by further movements beyond the fire: figures stalking through the bushes. Then a shout of many voices and a horde of screaming savages burst out of the shadows wielding spears and swords as they waded into the unarmed party-goers, who now screamed in terror.
So that’s why Henriqué warned him not to go.

see:A Singular Captain

A Singular Captain


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Sailor from wayback with a Master's degree in Technology Management. Prefer classical music to rap and chicken curry to steak.

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