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Xochiquetzal and the Vengeance Fleet

by Gerson Lodi-Ribeiro

“My Lord, the Zamorin of Calicut has imprisoned thy subjects, has killed one of thy Captains and has made mock of us throughout all the Indies. If we do not return to avenge this outrage, he will certainly carry out much worse ones, for which reason I have the greatest desire and will in my heart to destroy him and his city”.

– Vasco da Gama in Letter to the King Dom Manuel in 1521


After months and months of crossing the World Ocean, and several stops in strange lands, we have finally reached the legendary Calicut!

Before my very eyes exists a city without walls or defenses, which lies around the beach of the round inlet like a ring interlaced in silver and copper. The houses have white walls covered with beautiful reliefs, and roofs made of graying palm leaves. The streetscape stretches from port to starboard, with the rows of houses shining elegantly in the late morning sun, not more than three hundred fathoms from the forecastle of our proud Lusitânia.

Calicut is a great city, almost the size of Lisbon the White, or of the mysterious Cuzco in the Heights, from which the Inca governs his Empire, a much greater kingdom than that of my people according to the Portuguese. Although the city of the Zamorin astounds the Portuguese with its size and wealth, it is clear that these come nowhere near the treasures and the immensity of my beloved Tenochitilão.

The soft breeze whistles in from the land, rustling between the sails and the cordage, and making the still waters of the inlet slightly choppy with small waves which rub in a purring caress against the sides of the ships. However, neither a breeze nor a choppy sea can frighten these thirty-three men-of-war which have come from the other side of the world and from two oceans away, all that remained of the forty which left Rio da Prata eleven months ago.

Two men-of-war were lost from the Fleet in the crossing of the treacherous channel which separates the Ocean d’El Rei from the World Ocean, a strait which Dom Vasco baptized with the name of Magalhães, in homage to his friend who was murdered in Calicut.

By the order of my master five ships separated from the fleet in the port of Macao’s trading post and went south towards the Spice Islands, the discovery of which was recorded by Gonçalo Coelho, a captain who had survived the massacre of the Portuguese in Calicut. Once he had arrived there, Commander Francisco da Gama, the first-born son of Dom Vasco, was to found a new trading post in order to deal in pepper, cinnamon, cloves and ginger directly with the natives.

My master stated that thirty-three men-of-war of 250 tons, each of them with twelve bronze cannons brought from Portugal, were more than sufficient to make the Zamorin pay dearly for his crimes.

“Thirty-three.” I remember having mentioned to him. “The age of Our Lord Jesus Christ.”

“Indeed. As I told thee, a good number.”

Thirty-three ships full of sailors and their apprentice seaboys, and landlubbers, among which there were Portuguese soldiers, Aztec warriors and Navarran and Aragonese mercenaries.

The breeze from the land brings with it a pleasing gift in the form of a pungent aroma which smells of cinnamon and of carnations, a veritable aromatic nectar for my formerly sensitive nostrils, now accustomed to the reek of sweat and dry vomit, to the remains of the necessities performed in the corners of the hold and ingrained within the wood of the main deck, especially after all these months of heavy seas.

Oh, the Portuguese and their Iberian cousins, always buried within their armor of leather and shining metal… If only they knew how they stank … Almost all those on board give off a horrible bad smell. All of them except my master. Like several high-ranking Portuguese officers who have decided to wed our pipiltin, the Nahuatl noblewomen, Dom Vasco has discovered, in the most pleasant way, the amorous advantages of keeping his body clean, as demanded by the Aztec practices of hygiene.

My master, Dom Vasco da Gama, the Admiral of the World Ocean Navy, is strolling restlessly on the quarterdeck of the Lusitânia, the flagship of this fleet which, still on the eastern coasts of Southern Cabralia, was baptized as the “Vengeance Fleet”, both by our Portuguese suzerains and by ourselves, their faithful Mexican vassals.

I turn my back on the city. I wish to keep it in my memory as it is now: beautiful, rich and unstained. I do not feel like witnessing the beginning of its destruction.

I remain quiet and trembling, staring at the narrow entrance to the inlet. I feel, more than I notice, my knuckles turning white from the effort with which my tawny hands impotently grip the gunwale rail. We are both, my master and I, on the quarterdeck, the stern forecastle raised over his chambers, which in turn stands over the tiny compartment of the helmsman, from which the ship is steered.

The Lusitânia and the other ships are completing the maneuvers of anchoring. Under the orders of their captains, the helmsmen direct the course of the ships in order to provide the gunners of both the port and starboard cannons with good targets inside the city. The sailors cast the anchors of the prow and stern, in order to reduce the movements of the ships.

If I could stop the hail of burning metal about to crash down upon these so beautiful rooftops…

I have already witnessed this carnage once. It was four years ago, when my master Vasco da Gama ordered his fleet to destroy the town and trading post the Mayans had kept in the island of Cozumel, as a reprisal for the cowardly murdering of Admiral Columbus, carried out by Mayan merchants in that same place a year earlier.

Of course we Mexicans are not the greatest of friends to those decadent Mayans. Even so, it was not the prettiest sight to see them succumb in masses in that manner… Stone and plaster walls crumbling beneath the fire of the famous bronze cannons and the bombards of Dom Vasco. Men, women and children screaming and fleeing in panic. The blood of those who didn’t manage to escape in time spreading about and mixing with the white dust of the buildings in the little town and tinting the resulting cloud with the ochre hue of dirty red. Not a thing was left of the once prosperous trading post of Cozumel.

However, Cozumel was a very small town, and Calicut is the most precious pearl of the Malabar Coast, a jewel of incomparable beauty, praised in prose and verse in Timor, Macao and even in far-off Cipango.

* * *

The Portuguese were the first Christians to lay their eyes on the rich lands of the Malabar Coast. They docked in Calicut for the first time less than three years ago, in the year of fifteen hundred and twenty of the birth of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

At the beginning, the proud Zamorin welcomed the Commander of the Portuguese flotilla, the great Captain Fernão de Magalhães. However, something went wrong in the negotiations with the potentate of Calicut. As a result, Magalhães and several of his men were imprisoned and tortured to death.

The other man-of-war, commanded by Captain Gonçalo Coelho, managed to escape from the naval ambush set up by the Zamorin, and first returned to the World Ocean and then, months later, to the shores of Cabralia. When the news of such an unfortunate affront spread, a wave of indignation rose up from Lisbon, and licked at the two shores of the Ocean d’El Rei, which the older sailors still insist on calling the Ocean Sea. All of us, subjects and vassals of King Dom Manuel, whether in Portugal and the Algarve, in the great islands of Cuba and Lusitânia, in the fortresses of Yucatão, in the coastal trading posts of Southern Cabralia, and even in the heights of August Tenochitilão, desired that this outrage should be avenged at once.

The awaited order came from Lisbon the White, issued from the very irate hand of the King of Kings: Admiral Dom Vasco da Gama, my beloved husband and master, was to supervise the immediate building of the World Ocean Fleet in the new shipyards in the town of Rio da Prata, the ships of which would be financed by Mexican gold and Inca silver, and built from the trunks of the corks and oaks brought from the Kingdom and the fine hardwood from the lands of Cabralia.

Dom Vasco assumed the command of the recently-created fleet. Once aboard its flagship, we set sail for the World Ocean in the direction of the Indies, in order to avenge the vile offense of the murdering of the great Lusitanian hero, the distinguished navigator who had circumnavigated the whole continent of Southern Cabralia, had discovered the passage to the World Ocean, made the first contact with the Incan Empire, established the Sea Route to the Indies and discovered the legendary Spice Islands.

* * *

“Why dost thou not turn the other cheek to the Zamorin, my master? Is this not the wisest teaching of Our Lord Jesus Christ?”

Dom Vasco interrupts his giving of orders, shouted out and heard all over the deck, and turns to me with an air of stupefaction before my innocent gaze, a gaze almost free of mockery.

We are alone on the quarterdeck. Upon observing that the sailors, busy in the task of loading up the cannons on the two sides of the foredeck, have not heard my question, the harsh features of the Commander and Admiral become softer, and are once again those of my beloved husband.

“Well, Dona Xochiquetzal,” Dom Vasco smiles broadly. “It pleases me to once more confirm how sincere thy conversion has been.”

“Just as much as that of Huey Tlatoani Montezuma II, my father.” I return my master’s mischievous smile.

He breaks out into a laugh. An instant of joy and spontaneity cleaving open a mask of months of seriousness.

We both know that the conversion of Montezuma II and of the Aztec nobility to Christianity was in most cases a political maneuver of extreme convenience for everyone involved. The Portuguese began to receive copious amounts of gold from the mines and treasures from their new vassals, as well as large quantities of the much sought-after products from Mexico and Northern Cabralia, such as xocolatl, tobacco, atolli and tomatl. Now the Aztecs had access to the miraculous weapons of the Portuguese. The Great Dom Affonso de Albuquerque himself authorized the new allies to be armed with muskets and steel swords so that they could better face the rival kingdoms and tribes and thus aid the Viceroy to impose the severe colonial law upon them. Later on, when we learned the techniques of making gunpowder and firearms, we were able to repel the attempts at invasion by the Castilians, French and English practically on our own.

A good part of the finest of Aztec youth was taken to Portugal, under the pretext of better learning the Christian ways, but in fact they were hostages. I myself was one of the many pipiltin brought up in Lisbon in a calmecac, a school for high-born children, and today I consider myself to be as fluent in Portuguese as in Nahuatl.

But beneath this fine varnish imposed by Christianity and which so much pleased the Clergy in Lisbon and Rome, the beliefs of our ancestors still beat. Dom Affonso, Dom Vasco and some other high-ranking Portuguese administrators knew that the officially banned ritual sacrifices continued to be held in secret, not far from our great cities and even, so I heard, on the top of the Pyramid of the Sun in Teotirruacão.

“Only thou could flood my heart with joy at such a heavy moment!”

“Now talking seriously, my Lord Husband. Is there no other way of making the Zamorin yield other than bombarding Calicut? Magalhães himself in the western lands and in Southern Cabralia…”

“Ah, my dear lady, thou should not forget that the Inca Huayna Capac is an honored monarch and a greatly civilized man. As thy father, the Inca immediately understood the mutual advantage of turning his empire into a vassal kingdom of the crown of Portugal. Much to the contrary of this Zamorin, a pirate and a bandit!”

“I well know, my Lord. But is it not possible to make him swear vassalage to the King of Kings without us having to lay waste to Calicut?”

“Making him swear is one thing; making him keep to his word is another issue. Besides this, there is the desire of El Rei for the Zamorin to be exemplarily punished for the martyrdom he inflicted upon Dom Fernão de Magalhães and his men.” Dom Vasco strokes his long and almost completely white beard. “At my request, the King Dom Manuel has made me the instrument of his most royal vengeance, as he very well knows that his will and mine are one and the same. I would not give up this royal privilege for anything in this vast world of El Rei…”

My master is far from being a young man. He was no longer young when he took me for his wife in Tenochitilão before my father and the Nahuatl court five years ago. I do not really know why he does not abandon this habit of pleading for the King of Kings to grant him the command of the worst missions of destruction and carnage…

Now it is well past the time for him to settle down and benefit from his well-deserved riches and glories on a calm estate on the outskirts of Tenochitilão, in the towns on the shores of Iucatão, in the Great Isles, in the pleasant village of Cabo Frio, or in any other place in Mexico or in the Three Cabralias, as long as it is far, very far, away from the town of Vidigueira, in Portugal, where resides Dona Catarina de Ataíde, my master’s Portuguese wife.

I sigh in resignation. I fully understand that it could be worse. Much worse. At least I am always with my husband in his commissions on land and at sea, whilst the cold Dona Catarina has remained for years as a mere far-off memory in Portugal.

Since our wedding, the Captains and Officers of all the fleets and squadrons commanded by Dom Vasco have had permission to board with them their wives, mistresses or female slaves on every long journey we undertake. This is, indeed, the main reason why there is never a shortage of qualified Officers ready and willing to serve under the command of my master.

Over the last years, during the long periods in which our ships have remained in dock so that the carpenters, caulkers and weavers might repair their hulls and sails, the young ladies and married women of the vassal cities and towns spread throughout the coasts of Mexico, of the Isles or of the Cabralias, began to ask whether it might not be dangerous for the virtue of young and beautiful ladies to travel on board a ship full of sailors and soldiers. I always answer that indeed it would be if it we were not pipiltin ladies. Because the current Portuguese men-of-war, carracks and caravels sail the Seven Seas of the King of Kings full of Aztec warriors of the highest lineage, and I shudder to think what my compatriots would do to a Portuguese sailor or Aragonese soldier who dared to harm a pilli which these same warriors had sworn to defend with their very lives…

* * *

The Gunnery Master sounds the whistle three times in order to announce that the guns are loaded and ready. Dom Vasco orders the raising of the signaling pennants on the mast of the Lusitânia. Immediately, similar pennants flutter on the masts of the other men-of-war.

With no warning nor ultimatum to the city, Dom Vasco orders the beginning of the bombardment. On both sides in amidships and also on the stern below the quarterdeck, the bronze cannons, the pride of the Navy of the World Ocean, begin to fire a shower of balls of solid iron with roars and thick clouds of bitter-smelling smoke. At each fire the cannon pulls back with a great jolt and is immediately surrounded by well-trained Portuguese and Teuton gunners who reload the breech with incredible speed, so that in less than a quarter of an hour the majority of the cannons of the Lusitânia have carried out ten or twelve shots. The thick fumes of the burnt gunpowder and the harsh stench of saltpeter infect the whole ship. From the prows of some vessels, large bombards bellow out the uncontested whizzing of stone projectiles from their short barrels upon the defenseless city.

In Calicut, adults and children run about wildly, overcome by a mad terror in seeing their houses and streets exploding before their panicking gazes. The rooftops of palm leaves are caught by flames, which immediately spread throughout several wooden constructions. The beautiful palace of the Zamorin is hit by gunfire time and time again. Each time this happens, a cry of jubilation rises up among the sailors of the several ships of the Fleet.

The bombardment continues throughout the night. The rich subjects of the Zamorin must be thinking that it is the End of the World. And, in a certain way, they are right. In the brief intervals between the shelling, I hear moans and weeping and woeful laments from mothers searching for their children lost amid the destruction… I imagine how I would feel were I one of those unfortunate mothers, searching in vain for my little Affonso, or for baby Fernãozinho, whom I still carry with me and nurse at my breast… My and Dom Vasco’s children swallowed up by the rain of howling iron vomited by the thundering of the cannons… As a mother I cannot prevent myself from having pity on these poor women…

* * *

The bombardment ceases in the early hours of the morning so that the garrisons and the cannons themselves may rest for a few hours. However, three times during the starry night, the sentinels of other ships in the Fleet ordered fire upon real or imagined enemy galliots, which might be attempting a furtive attack against the Fleet.

Disturbed by the sporadic firing and by the far-off cries and wailing of the subjects of the Zamorin, I was unable to sleep. I lulled Fernãozinho against my breast to the tune of an old Nahuatl song, but unlike my baby, I found no comfort either in the slight swaying of the Lusitânia, nor in the lullaby which I forlornly hummed.

The morning after our arrival, shortly after the breakfast of smoked fish, dried biscuit and a dose of Port wine mixed with the xocolatl, an Indian ship approaches our Fleet. It is a long transport barge full of rowers with their heads wrapped in strange cloths. A tall, thin man dressed in black is standing on the prow of the barge.

The Gunnery Master asks Dom Vasco whether he should order an open-fire against the barge. My husband says no. He wants to hear what the emissaries of the Zamorin will say.

Dom Vasco calls the seaman Martim Afonso to join him. As he has lived in the Congo, the old sailor is well versed in the Arabic tongue. The decision turns out to be the right one, as it is in this tongue that the spokesman for the Zamorin expresses himself, shouting from the prow of the barge ten yards away from the gunnel of the Lusitânia.

“In the name of the Samudra-Raj of Calicut, I request a truce in thine attacks.”

“I shall grant the mercy of a provisional truce, as long as it is short,” declares Dom Vasco.

“My August Lord of Calicut desires to know who thou are who have come without warning to discharge destruction through the air upon the beautiful capital of his kingdom.” The emissary dressed in black clothes like those of a priest cries out from the barge and the interpreter translates for us, not without a certain difficulty.

My master and the four captains who had come on board the flagship in boats early in the morning are seized by a cold hatred which I do not understand at once. As pale as a bloodless corpse, the young captain Vaz de Sampaio mutters under his breath:

“Look, Dom Vasco, sir! The infidel is wearing the cassock of one of the Franciscan monks who were on board the carrack of Dom Fernão de Magalhães!”

“Yes, my good Lopo! I had already noticed.” My husband strokes his white beard and casts a frowning gaze at the Zamorin’s herald. He turns to the deck below the quarterdeck and orders, in his most serious voice, “Boatswain, lower three armed dinghies! Bring this Moorish mongrel into my presence.”

Then it is indeed a priest’s habit which the emissary is wearing… How can he dare cover himself with the robes of a Franciscan monk, a martyr, tortured and killed under the orders of the monarch of a kingdom of barbarians?

In a short time, with the barge having been sunk and with the majority of the rowers swimming back to the beach, the emissary, now stripped of his Franciscan robes, and five other subjects of the Zamorin are kneeling at the feet of Dom Vasco. The other Indians remain taciturn, with their richly colored garments torn and their faces marked with blood and bruises from the heavy blows of the sailors.

“So!” Dom Vasco’s powerful voice breaks the deathly silence which had fallen upon the quarterdeck. “Thy master didn’t even respect the robes of a priest! Thou will pay most dearly for such an insult, thou and him!”

My master turns to me and whispers into my ear:

“Dona Xochiquetzal, perhaps it would be a wise suggestion for thee to await me below decks, next to our son and Dona Tonantzin, thy lady-in-wait.”

Certainly intending to submit the subjects of the Zamorin to unnamable tortures and fearing that the sight of these torments might offend my womanly sensibilities, Dom Vasco wishes for me to withdraw, an attitude which, at this momentous time, my honor and pride do not allow me to take. My blood and the awareness of my condition rise to my head, and I reply in an openly harsh tone:

“Well, My Lord Husband, have thou perchance forgotten what is the blood which flows in my veins? That besides being a highborn daughter from the court of the King Dom Manuel, I am also a pilli from the imperial house of Montezuma?”

Dom Vasco’s mouth hangs open; he is as surprised by my boldness as I am myself. But he does not reply immediately. The four captains and the nearby soldiers stare at the boards of the quarterdeck, pretending that they have heard nothing. Then finally my master sighs and grants me his consent:

“Indeed. Then stay, my lady.”

The other captains, the soldiers and the captives stare at my master, waiting for his final decision. This does not take long.

“Hang the Moors from the mainmast. As for the false friar, have him hung by his tomatoes and his tongue on the foremast. When the bodies are brought down from the masts, cut off their hands and feet. These parts should be sent to the Zamorin, as a special gift from King Dom Manuel along with a letter I will soon dictate.”

“And what should we do with the rest of the bodies, Sir?” Asks a fierce-looking lieutenant, already with his sword drawn.

“Cast them into the sea,” Dom Vasco decides, after thinking somewhat. “Let the fish enjoy these useless carcasses as best they may.”

“My Lord Admiral!” A seaboy shouts from the heights of the crow’s nest. “Fleet under attack!”

“The treacherous bastard!” Dom Vasco howls at the top of his voice. “He attacks us during an armistice which he himself requested! Raise the battle pennants! Sound the whistles! Gunners, to thy posts!”

Events rush forward.

About seventy pinnaces, barges and canoes, led by three galliots armed with iron bombards came towards the Fleet whilst we were paying attention to the captives, and now they are almost upon us.

Frenetic whistlings from the Gunnery Masters sound throughout the whole Fleet. The command pennant of the Lusitânia unconditionally orders, “Attack!”.

The more far off ships begin their devastating gunfire upon the enemy fleet. After the first salvo, one of the galliots is severely hit, begins to let in water and is immediately abandoned by the Indian sailors. Another galliot and several barges move in upon the Lusitânia. The enemy vessels are so close to our gunnels that it is no longer possible to hit them with our cannons. Boarding is imminent.

“Lusitanians, to the gunwales!” Shouts Captain Lopo Vaz de Sampaio over the din of the cannons from the nearest warships.

“Nahuatl under my command!” orders the Captain of the contingent of the Aztec warriors on board the flagship. “For the Tlatoani and for El Rei, prepare arms!”

Commanded by the firm hand of Vaz de Sampaio, the Portuguese soldiers come to the starboard rail, where some more bold enemy sailors are beginning to climb up. The crews of the galliot put down their oars, take up their quivers and stretch their bows. A shower of arrows rains down upon our crew. The soldiers crouch down behind the gunwale. With their metal breastplates, none of them suffers any serious wounds during this first salvo. Then they stand up as one man, fix their muskets in the forks set upon the rails and fire in a succession of reports and puffs of light-colored smoke. Many of the sailors on the galliot fall lifelessly onto the bottom of their boat; others howl in pain or struggle in agony. Those who are still able take up the oars the best they can and began a slow maneuver of retreat.

The Portuguese soldiers, however, do not attack them, as for the moment they have more serious concerns. Some enemy sailors have managed to haul themselves up on ropes fixed to the gunnel rail by hooks thrown from a boat. The soldiers rush into the close fighting, brandishing their steel swords and their diabolical left-hand daggers. The Portuguese are invincible in this kind of combat. It is told that once five Portuguese armed with such weapons faced and defeated a hundred elite Aztec warriors, before we became vassals of King Dom Manuel. In the inlet of Calicut the result is no different. Within a short time there is a bloody pile of Indian bodies stacked up on the deck of the warship. Some Portuguese soldiers and sailors are indeed wounded, but there are no dead among our ranks.

On the opposite side a horde of Moorish pirates scales the rail with their curved sabers held between their teeth and engage in a bloody struggle with a small army of Aztec warriors armed with steel swords and bronze maces. The Portuguese had been good teachers, and the warriors of my people their best disciples in the Three Cabralias. It did not take us long to exterminate the majority of the invaders and to thrust the few survivors over the rail.

After the immediate danger to the flagship has passed, Dom Vasco orders:

“Open fire on the enemy! Fire from all cannons!”

An hour later almost the whole of the Zamorin’s fleet was sunk or set on fire by gunfire of our men-of-war. No vessel from our Fleet suffered serious damage. All the attempts at boarding were repulsed with a great loss of life for the enemy.

After the combat had ended, the four captains present during the skirmish receive Dom Vasco’s permission to return to their warships.

The Admiral granted special thanks to the brave Captain Vaz de Sampaio, and embraced him like a son.

As soon as the captains depart, my husband begins to walk up and down the deck in a most restless mood. In rage, he screams out against the Zamorin of Calicut:

“Thou evil man, thou sent me an infidel mongrel dog to speak in thy name, and I listened to thy voice. Thou didst as much as thou could, and if thou could have done more thou would have. Thou will be punished as much as thou deserve. When I set my boots on thy land I will pay thee the double that thou have given us without the need for money.”

* * *

The cannonade of Calicut is taken up again in full force at the beginning of the afternoon.

The iron balls are fired by means of explosions in the middle of the smoke of burnt gunpowder. They are flying battering-rams spat out by the Fleet’s cannons which crash down amid a merciless buzzing, hammering upon the fragile roofs and the whitewashed walls of the city, until they reduce these walls to clouds of dust. Several fires have broken out among the rows of houses and the official buildings covered with beautiful painted tiles.

At nightfall, eleven warships are called upon to continue the bombardment, while the others withdraw to the entrance of the inlet with the dual aim of allowing their crews to rest and to block the arrival of any help coming from the sea. The following morning, the ships that had withdrawn join those that had remained and inflicted the nocturnal martyrdom on the city.

The morning goes by and the afternoon comes. The starry night arrives and the bombardment continues with its constant rhythm. About bedtime, two thirds of the ships withdraw for their well-earned night repose and another eleven, different to those chosen the previous night, continue firing on the city.

The cruel routine of the third day continues identically to that of the second.

In the middle of the fourth day counting from our arrival, even I, a Nahuatl princess of royal blood, cannot bear to witness such suffering in the enemy city. After the breast-feeding of the beginning of the afternoon, I approach Dom Vasco in his favorite post on the quarterdeck and I ask him softly:

“My lord, is this not punishment enough? Dom Manuel will be satisfied for sure, and will also have a more or less safe city to subjugate.”

He stares at me with a scowl. But his features slowly soften. He strokes his beard in thought, and then he finally answers in a surprisingly jovial tone:

“Yes, thou are right, Madam. I think that Calicut and the Zamorin have been softened up enough to accept the fate we have reserved for them.”

Dom Vasco orders the raising of pennants to signal the end of the cannonade. He calls the other captains on board the Lusitânia. The dinghies arrive transporting the captains of the other warships in their bilges.

The quarterdeck becomes too small for so many men, but it is here that the high command meeting is held. Dom Vasco explains his intentions to his captains.

* * *

The men-of-war approach the beach of Calicut, as much as the depth of water allows. Several dinghies leave from each warship full of Portuguese soldiers and Aztec warriors wearing bronze breastplates and armed with muskets, swords, spears, maces and left-hand daggers. Vigorous rowers impel the small boats until they set down on the fine, golden sand of the beach.

The soldiers and warriors disembark in groups. They advance from the beach towards the city. The population and the Zamorin guard try to offer some resistance. It is useless. In a few hours Calicut is firmly held in the hands of a few thousand men brought from the other side of the world by Dom Vasco.

A trembling Zamorin is hanged on the most beautiful square of the city, right opposite his former palace, now lain in ruins, and in front of a sorry and submissive population. After the Zamorin, it is the turn of his former chief advisors.

When the executions are finished, Dom Vasco asks Dom Estevão, the Chaplain of the Fleet, to say a Mass in thanks for the Portuguese victory and the completion of the vengeance of El Rei Dom Manuel, the Lord of the Seven Seas.

* * *

We left Calicut a week later. In the end we did not found any trading post there. Dom Vasco considered that the city, now without leaders and semi-destroyed, had little to offer the Kingdom of Portugal in terms of trade.

We go down the Malabar Coast heading south towards the kingdom of Cochin.

The warships sail sluggishly, without any haste, as Dom Vasco wishes for the news of the fall of Calicut to precede our arrival.

My master wishes to know whether the Sultan of Cochin will remain faithful to the alliance with the defunct Zamorin of Calicut, or will prefer to become a vassal of El Rei. Whatever the case, he had already decided to found a trading post in Cochin.

The rubies, emeralds and other gemstones, the works in gold and silver from the Zamorin’s treasure, as well as the many quintals of pepper seized from the markets of Calicut and which now fill the holds of the Lusitânia and the other ships will certainly confirm the well deserved fame of King Dom Manuel as the richest monarch in Christendom, a fact which will further increase the envy which eats at his royal relative, King Carlos of Aragon and Castile, always busy with the internal disputes between his two kingdoms…

I hope that in his most great generosity, King Dom Manuel will grant Dom Vasco favors as great as those that were bestowed upon Admiral Columbus for the discovery of the Cabralias or to Dom Affonso the Great, the first Viceroy of Mexico.

However, according to my master, the most important treasure found among the precious belongings of the dead Zamorin was a strange map written in Arabic. Our interpreter Martim Afonso said it seems to indicate the existence of a sea passage to the south of Africa between the Indian Ocean and the Ocean d’El Rei!

“If this fact is confirmed,” Dom Vasco explains to me in one of our many conversations on the quarterdeck of the flagship, after I had checked with Tonantzin that Fernãozinho was well, “we shall conclude that the old King Dom João II was really right in sending Bartolomeu Dias to try to round that mythical Cabo das Tormentas to find the sea passage to the Indies going East.”

“But Bartolomeu Dias never managed to round that cape… Perhaps it is impossible to do so.”

“Well, my dear princess. Now that we know that this passage in fact exists, it is merely a matter of time before a Portuguese navigator manages to overcome the Cabo das Tormentas. Even if we have to invent another turn-in-the-sea maneuver in order to defeat the monster…”


Portuguese discover america atl

1488 — Shipwreck of the flotilla of Bartolomeu Dias (1450-1488) in the Cape of Storms [Cabo das Tormentas].

1489 — The King of Portugal Dom João II (1455-1495) accepts the proposal of the Genoese navigator Christopher Columbus (1451-1519).

1490 — Columbus discovers America for Portugal.

1491 — Second Voyage of Columbus to the New World. Discovery of Cuba and Lusitânia (Hispaniola, OTL).

(1491-1493) — Colonization begins at Cuba and Lusitânia.

1494 — Fourth Voyage of Columbus to the New World. Columbus reaches the mouth of the Amazon River.

1498 — Gaspar de Corte-Real (1450-1515) explores the coast of the future Northern Cabralia (New England, OTL).

1500 — The village of Nova Lisboa is founded in Mana-Rata Island (Manhattan, OTL). First village in the Northern Cabralia.

1502 — Montezuma II (1466-1532) becomes Tlatoani (emperor) of the Aztec Empire.

1503 — Pedro Álvares Cabral (1460-1521) discovers the Island of Vera Cruz (OTL Brazil’s first name, too), which was named in his homage afterwards. The trading post of Rio de Janeiro is founded in the Guanabara Bay.

1504 — Princess Xochiquetzal is born and recognized as the twenty-eighth child of the Tlatoani Montezuma II.

1505 — Civil war in Spain between Castilians and Aragoneses after the death of Queen Isabella I of Castile in the previous year. Ferdinand V of Aragon and the segment of the Castilian nobility who keeps its fealty to him spend the eleven following years trying to subdue the Kingdom of Aragon and the Aragonese nobility whose members charge the monarch of being Castellano!

1506 — First mention of the name “Cabralia” in a Portuguese nautical chart.

1507 — The village of Cabo Frio is founded in the shores of Itajuru Channel. First village in the Southern Cabralia.

(1508-1510) — Affonso de Albuquerque (Affonso the Great; 1453-1515) turns the Aztec Empire into a vassal state of the Kingdom of Portugal and becomes the first Viceroy of Mexico. In the presence of Albuquerque, the Tlatoani Montezuma II swears vassalage to the King Dom Manuel the Fortunate; this monarch is also known as “Lord of the Seven Seas”. The Aztecs usually refer to Dom Manuel by the title of “King of Kings”.

1509 — The village of Rio da Prata is founded. The Portuguese hear of the account on the existence of the Incan Empire for the first time.

1516 — End of the Spanish Civil War. Carlos I, grandson of Ferdinand and Isabella, ascends the throne of United Kingdom of Spain.

1517 — Fernão de Magalhães (1460-1520) circumnavigates Southern Cabralia towards the World Ocean (Pacific Ocean, OTL). The Portuguese are still searching for a sea route to the Indies.

1518 — On behalf of Portugal, Fernão de Magalhães establishes the first contact with the Incan Empire. The emissaries of the Inca Huayna Capac (14??-1525) change gifts with the Portuguese. Fernão de Magalhães and his small retinue are received in Huayna Capac’s court at Cuzco in the Heights.

1518 — Dom Vasco da Gama marries with Princess Xochiquetzal in a wedding ceremony in Tlatoani Montezuma’s court at Tenochitilão (Sorry, but it’s the way the Portuguese call the Aztec capital).

1519 — Death of Christopher Columbus in the hands of Mayan traders in Cozumel Island.

1519 — The fleet of Vasco da Gama (1469-1527) cannonades and destroys the Mayan trading center in Cozumel.

1520 — Fernão de Magalhães discovers the Sea Route to the Indies through the World Ocean. Magalhães cast anchor in Calicut. A week later, he is tortured and slain by the order of the Zamorin.

1523 — Vasco da Gama and his Vengeance Fleet arrive to the Malabar Coast. Cannonade and carnage in Calicut.

Copyright © 2011 by Gerson Lodi-Ribeiro
Translated by David Alan Prescott
Revision by Gerson Lodi-Ribeiro

First published under the pseudonym Carla Cristina Pereira in

Pecar a Sete , org. António de Macedo & Silvana Menezes

Simetria, Portugal 1999


Gerson Lodi-Ribeiro is a Brazilian science fiction and alternative history writer, editor & publisher, and alternative history scholar. He has published short stories and novelettes in professional Brazilian science fiction magazines, one  of which, „The Ethics of Treason“, was the very first alternative history story ever published in Brazilian science fiction. Gerson was publisher of Ano-Luz Brazilian small press and between 1999 and 2003 president of the  Brazilian Science Fiction Readers Club.


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