Sunday, October 2, 2016
1st 5 Pages October Workshop - Cruz
Name: Erik Cruz
Genre: Young Adult Historical
Title: Bloody Trails
5 Outubro 1474
When I left the Açores, my family, friends and neighbors warned me these wild jungles would be the death of me. They heard the Gold Coast holds debilitating 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 matchlock gun and colhona sword to protect me.”
“Yup,” he responds. Noticing my smile, he adds, “Stop enjoying this.”
I chuckle before responding. “I can stop smiling, but I can’t stop relishing this moment. We are standing here, in front of the pristine water, hearing the parrot’s caws and the buffaloes’ bellows. We are two of only a handful of outsiders who have marveled at this sight.”
“We’re illegally carrying gold, ivory and spices. I’m in no mood to smell the damn flowers. We gotta get back to Cape Coast in less than three days. We’ll be in trouble with our Captain if Fernão Gomes 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 searching for gold. It shows him he has lowly 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. “Honestly, 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 so much.”
The brown-haired, stern-faced Simão walks up to me, snatches my water canteen and takes a swig from it. “You’re crazy. I can’t believe you talked me into this. After years of sailing for King Afonso V, I’m now 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.”
Simão fights it, but can’t help but smile. “Gaspar, how do ya come up with responses so fast?”
“Well, I’m used to everyone disagreeing with me, so I’ve learned to answer criticism. Seriously, it comes naturally now,” I respond, laughing. Seeing as how Simão is in a good mood, I know it’s the best time to ask about trekking further into the jungle. “Should we go deeper along the river basin?”
“You’re insane. We can’t go further. We barely have enough food to last the trip back. It’s been four days since we left our ship in Cape Coast. 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 his suggestions. “Fine, let’s go back. How far do you think we’re from camp?”
“Close to one hundred miles.”
“Roughly twenty-nine leagues then, so two days away.”
“Right, we have to backtrack and hope to God we come across a familiar area. The farther away from the beaches of Cape Coast, the greater the chance of running into trouble.”
Our country has strong trade relations with the Akan-speaking clans, in particular the Fante tribe. This connection was quickly forged the moment our explorers landed here three years ago. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of our dealings with other tribes. What separates the Akan from other tribes 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 aids 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 are considered valuable…unlike lowly sailors like us, who are 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 the tan-skinned, brown-bearded Simão, 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. Your annoying, stupid voice will make me crazy like you. Keep yer 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.
I know I can get back to camp on my own. Nevertheless, why chance it? I choose to ignore his barbs and play the obedient little explorer. “Okay then. What’s our next move?”
“Let’s retrace our steps,” he says in a much calmer tone. “We should recognize some areas of the jungle. It did rain the last two days, so our foot tracks won’t be there.” Simão stops, lets out a bullish snort and looks at the grassy ground. “We're being punished. Our attention turns to riches and we keep losing our path.”
“It’s uncharted territory. We can’t help but get lost once in a while.”
“That’s not the path I’m talking about, Gaspar.”
“Oh,” I respond in an awkward voice. Immediately, I try my best to steer the conversation back. “If only we could hear or see the seagulls. That’d indicate the beach is near.”
After hours of silently marching through the untamed jungle drenched in our own sweat, and gathering more small golden nuggets unearthed by the rain, we still have no clear sense of the right direction. As the sun begins to disappear into the horizon, I instinctively halt for a moment and catch a glimpse of the bright orange orb setting in the sky, towering over a 20-feet-high cotton silk tree. The sun looks enormous and so much closer to the ground than it does back home in Anjos.