Prompt: One of the 18 men who survived the three-year journey under Magellan’s command during the first recorded circumnavigation of the globe in 1519, was not, newly recovered information reveals, in fact a man…
BEST OF MATES
Gideon disembarked from the fishing sloop that had brought him from Cadiz to the seaside village of Santo Angelos. He was both relieved—the three day trip had proved smelly and uncomfortable—and excited. Finally, he would learn about Magellan’s voyage directly from two of the seamen who had sailed with the famous navigator nine years earlier.
He washed away the tang of salt with a tankard of ale at a quayside tavern and asked the hotelier where he would find the villa of Senors Negrito and de Marques. This enquiry was received with a smile from the landlord and open glee from the locals at the bar. I suppose they have little amusement here, Gideon thought, but having secured directions, he walked some few hundred yards along the town’s seawall road. And there was the villa, surrounded by a myriad of local Mediterranean fruit trees, a bountiful vegetable garden, and a stone paved patio complete with splashing fountains. It looked to be a well-tended property.
Master Gideon wished to make his name as an historian. The tale of Captain Ferdinand Magellan’s voyage around the world seemed a very fitting history to write. Particularly as the official version was patently untrue! Research through the records of the Spanish navy, at Cadiz, revealed that the great captain had, in fact, never succeeded with the first circumnavigation of the world. The voyage had been completed under the command of Juan Sebastian Elcano, a brilliant Basque mariner. Politics of the time meant the official accolades for the voyage had been given to Magellan. He was Portuguese and so not a threat to the Spanish crown, whereas no Basque could ever be trusted by anyone at the court of King Charles V.
Gideon could not believe his luck. He had stumbled upon a real scandal that could make his history–the revised but true history of the voyage—a most sought after manuscript. It could make his name.
The detailed maritime records described the voyage: setting out in 1519 with five ships and two-hundred and forty men, the three year voyage had seen the brutal slaying of its leader in the Philippines, various mutinies, and the death of most of the men who had set forth. In 1522 one ship of the original armada returned, with a complement of only eighteen Europeans. They were feted as heroes; Captain Elcano was rewarded with a kingdom in the Philippines, and a rich pension. The seventeen seamen each received a pension for life.
Quite a sufficient pension, Gideon thought, as he made his way through the manicured gardens.
Gideon had corresponded with Master Seaman Raoul de Marques, been invited to the villa in Santo Angelos, and hence the voyage across the Gulf of Cadiz. A house servant conducted him through the villa’s reception rooms and out into another garden space. Senor de Marques stood as Gideon approached and graciously invited him to sit and enjoy some refreshment. The seaman’s face still bore the sunburnt and wind whipped signs of his past employment. But the glint in his dark eyes spoke of good humour.
Over cups of the local red wine and a plate of cow’s cheese and olives, the two men talked. “I had hoped to meet Senor Negrito. I am told that you retired here together?”
“Ah, yes. That we did. But I am sorry, Senor Negrito has passed. Only recently. He is still sadly missed.” The man’s eyes welled with tears. “He was the best of shipmates. We bunked together in the chain locker of La Victoria, so it seemed only fitting to bunk together here. We had a good life.
Gideon wanted to ask about the politics of the claim that Magellan was the man who first circumnavigated the globe, but he felt that it was only polite to ask his host about his friend.
“Oh, he was brave, such a big heart. I remember once. It was off Terre Del Fuego. In a storm of course. It was always stormy there. Anyway, a young seaman, a lad really, lost his footing in the rigging and fell. He survived the fall but couldn’t swim. Seamen usually cannot. But Negrito dove right in, swam to the lad, grabbed his collar, and swam back to the ship. No one else could have done that. We pulled them both back on board. We all enjoyed free drams of rum for the telling of that tale in many a tavern.”
Gideon started to speak, but his host continued. “Negrito was a friend to everyone. He calmed us, just by being there. And the cook loved him; he would eat anything.” Raoul laughed at the memory.
“Now that he has passed I will let the Royal Bursar know. After the lifesaving incident Senor Pigafetta, the expedition’s chronicler, thought it would be amusing to list Negrito as a member of the crew, a promotion of sorts for saving the young lad. He entered the name in the ship’s log and from then on…well, we could not stop the game. So, Negrito—the best dog I have ever known– was awarded a pension, as were we all.” The old man lifted his glass and sipped the wine. “I will let the Bursar know. I don’t want to receive Blackie’s pension under false pretenses.” His eyes twinkled with fun.
Gideon had thought he would expose Magellan and promote Elcano. Now he had an even better story.