Sunday, October 9, 2016
1st 5 Pages October Workshop - Cruz Rev 1
Name: Erik Cruz
Genre: Young Adult Historical
Title: Bloody Trails
5 Outubro 1474
“Gaspar, behind you,” Simão yells. “Around your feet.”
Instinctively, I withdraw my colhona from its wooden scabbard and wildly swing it downwards. Glancing at the muddy ground, I see a black-and-yellow snake slashed in half. With a smirk, I run my fingers over its rough scales. “I’ve always wanted to feel their skin.”
“What’s wrong with you, boy? That spitting cobra could have poisoned you.”
Anything in this jungle could kill me.” Staring at the snake’s blood on my blade, I wipe it against the side of my green-doublet before stashing it in the sheath at my hip.
“Keep being reckless and it’ll happen,” he replies.
When I left the peaceful Açores ten months ago, my family, friends and neighbors warned me these jungles would bring me closer to Saint Peter. They heard the Gold Coast holds deadly beasts and diseases, poisonous man-eating plants and spear-wielding natives. Without fail, I smiled and responded, But there’s gold waiting for me. Don’t worry, I have my gun and sword to protect me.
Still in one piece, I march toward the sparkling waterfall twenty feet away. How badly I want to go under it, close my eyes and feel the soothing water rush over my filthy brown hair. But I can’t, because I need to stay vigilant. For all I know, there’s a crocodile or hippo lurking nearby. My swollen legs carry me forward until I spot numerous pink round-petalled flowers containing melegueta pepper, the spice that fuels Fernão Gomes’s Gold Coast trade. I stop briefly and snatch five of the bright red pods, stashing them in my bag along with some gold and red hog ivory tusks.
We continue our trek past the thick evergreen canarium trees, ripe with brown and purple fruits reminiscent of grapes—though slightly bigger. I can’t help but reach for one.
“Every single time,” Simão says, swatting it from my hands. “We don’t know if they’re poisonous.”
“Only one way to find out,” I respond, grinning, much to his displeasure. I kneel over the water's edge, splash some of that clear water on my murky tanned face and refill my canteen. Before rising from the ground, I inspect my matchlock’s slow match and discover it’s been extinguished yet again. I put the strap of the gun over my shoulder, fully knowing I can only rely on my colhona.
“We’re lost, aren’t we?” I ask, standing alongside him.
“What do you think?” he responds, glaring at me. Noticing my smile, he adds, “Stop enjoying this.” Even after five months of exploring with him, I’m not used to that fatherly tone of his. Pai died eight years ago, so my ears barely remember it. I suppose Simão can’t help it. I’m fifteen, the same age as his daughter back in Lisboa.
I chuckle before replying, “I can stop smiling, but I can’t stop relishing this moment. We are standing in lush jungles hearing the parrots’ caws and the buffaloes’ bellows.”
“Who cares about the dumb animals? We’re carrying tainted treasures. We gotta get back to camp soon. We’ll be in trouble with the captain if Fernão asks him questions.”
“It’ll be fine. We’re only keeping a small amount of the riches for ourselves. Fernão must be glad we volunteer to trek the jungles for gold. It shows him he has sailors who gladly explore on foot so deep into the uncharted.”
“What if he finds out?”
“They probably wouldn’t flog us. They might just toss us overboard,” I respond to the sweaty, nervous man in front of me. Why is he so concerned? I’m the child of New Christians. My head would be the first to roll, probably sparing his in the process. “Fernão doesn’t know us, and Captain Pêro de Sintra probably thinks too little of us. Never would he imagine that we keep even a single gold pebble, much less one-tenth of the haul. Stop worrying.”
The brown-haired, stern-faced Simão Rodrigues walks up to me, snatches my canteen and takes a swig from it. “You’re crazy. I can’t believe I let you talk me into this. After years of honorably sailing for King Afonso V, I’m stealing from him.”
“Don’t think of it as stealing. Instead see it as a small fee for the dangerous work we do for the Português Crown.”
He fights it, but can’t help but smile. “Gaspar, how do you come up with responses so fast?”
“Well, I’m used to everyone disagreeing with me, so I’ve learned to answer criticism. It comes naturally now,” I respond, chuckling. Seeing as how Simão is in a good mood, I know it’s the best time to ask about trekking further. “Should we go deeper along the river basin?”
“No. Stop being insane. We barely have enough food to last the trip back. It’s been four days since we left our ship in Cape Coast. Do I need to remind you our supplies never last more than a week? I know we didn’t get as much treasure this time, but that doesn’t mean we act stupid.”
Ah, another tongue-lashing from the experienced sailor. I should probably listen more carefully to him. “Fine. How far do you think we are from camp?”
“Close to fourteen leagues,” he replies, looking up at the sky, as if seeking heavenly guidance.
“We can do that .”
“We gotta backtrack and hope to God we come across a familiar area. The farther away from the Cape Coast beaches, the better the chances of running into trouble.”
Our country has strong trade relations with the Akan-speaking clans near the beaches, particularly the Fante tribe. This connection was forged the moment our explorers landed here three years ago. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of our dealings with other tribes further in land. What separates the Akan from others is that they have an appreciation for gold and use it as their currency. Anything and anyone can be bought for the right price, be it in Europe or Africa, really.
So far in the time I’ve spent in the Gold Coast, I’ve been lucky not to have encountered hostile natives. During our excursions—which always consist of only Simão and myself—we stay close to the gold-rich riverbanks. This tactic not only helps us in acquiring treasures but also keeps our sight clear of the towering, and view-obstructing, ebony, cedar and mahogany trees. We only veer off if we see unnatural clumps of mud or other house materials used by the natives.
“If only we had a useful dry compass. It would make it easier to map out these parts. Simão, you do know why they don’t give us one, right?”
“It’s damn expensive. They don’t supply them to every crewmember—”
I couldn’t help but interrupt him. “They’re considered valuable…unlike us lowly explorers. We’re instantly discarded the moment we die, just as I replaced that page ten months ago, after he died of dysentery. No one mourns him, or even mentions the name of that poor sailor-in-training who never had the opportunity to be promoted.” One glance at the clenched teeth and reddening cheeks of my brown-bearded accomplice warns me of what’s to come, although it hardly helps me avoid it.
“Shut up, Gaspar. I’m trying to get us back to Cape Coast. Keep your annoying mouth shut and I’ll take you back.” He angrily clutches his wooden crucifix and continues his rant. “I swear on His cross, keep chirping and I’ll leave you behind in the jungle.”