Authors: Elizabeth Zelvin








Elizabeth Zelvin









© 2013 Elizabeth Zelvin


Table of Contents


Cast of Characters


Part One
: Navidad


Prologue: Hispaniola, December 24, 1492 - January 4, 1493


Part Two: Spain


Chapter 1: Barcelona, April 17, 1493

Chapter 2: Barcelona, April 18, 1493

Chapter 3: Barcelona, April 18, 1493

Chapter 4: Barcelona, April 18-19, 1493

Chapter 5:
Outside Barcelona, April 19, 1493

Chapter 6:
On the road to Seville, April 19-23, 1493

Chapter 7: Cordoba, April 26, 1493

Chapter 8: Cordoba, April 26, 1493

Chapter 9:
Cordoba, April 26, 1493

apter 10: Outside Cordoba, April 26, 1493

Chapter 11:
On the road to Seville, April 27-29, 1493

Chapter 12:
Seville, May 4 – June 1, 1493

Chapter 13:
Seville, June 1 – July 15, 1493

Chapter 14:
Seville, July 16, 1493

Chapter 15:
Seville, July 17 – August 1, 1493

Chapter 16:
Seville – Jerez de la Frontera, August 16 – September 4, 1493

Chapter 17: Cadiz, September 6, 1493

Chapter 18:
Cadiz, September 25, 1493


Part Three: The Indies


Chapter 19: San Sebastian, Gomera, Canary Isles, October 6, 1493

Chapter 20: On the Ocean Sea, October 13 - November 3, 1493

Chapter 21: Dominica, November 3, 1493

Chapter 22:
Santa Cruz, November 13, 1493

Chapter 23: La Navidad, Hispaniola, November 27-28, 1493

Chapter 24: La Navidad, Hispaniola, November 29, 1493

Chapter 25: Hispaniola, December 2, 1493

Chapter 26: Isabela, Hispaniola, December 7, 1493 - January 20, 1494

Chapter 27:
Isabela, January 20 – March 16, 1494

Chapter 28:
Santo Tomas – Ponton – Isabela, March 16 – April 12, 1494

Chapter 29:
Quisqueya, April 24 – June 26, 1494

Chapter 30:
Quisqueya, July 15 – September 30, 1494

Chapter 31:
Quisqueya, October 3-6, 1494

Chapter 32:
Quisqueya, October 6, 1494

Chapter 33:
Quisqueya, October 6, 1494

Chapter 34:
Quisqueya – Isabela, October 6-12, 1494

Chapter 35:
Isabela, October 15, 1494 – January 15, 1495

Chapter 36:
Isabela, January 16 – February 24, 1495


Historical Timeline






About the Author


Books and Stories by Elizabeth Zelvin


Cast of Characters


Known to history

Christopher Columbus, Admiral of the Ocean Sea

King Ferdinand of Aragon

Queen Isabella of Castile

Diego Columbus, a Taino interpreter

Don Juan de Fonseca, Archdeacon of Seville

Melchior Maldonado, former envoy to the Holy See

Don Diego Columbus, the Admiral’s younger brother

Michele de Cuneo of Savona, a childhood friend of Columbus

Antonio de Torres, ship’s captain

Dr. Diego Alvarez Chanca, physician

Fray Bernardo Buil, a cleric

Fray Ramon Pane, a cleric

Guacanagarí, a

Alonso de Hojeda, ship’s captain

Gines de Gorbalan, ship’s captain

Mosen Pedro Margarit, a soldier

Don Bartholomew Columbus, the Admiral’s older brother

Guatiguana, a


From the author’s imagination

Diego Mendoza, a

Rachel Mendoza, his sister, also called Raquel or Rafael Mendes

Doña Marina Mendes y Torres, his aunt, a

Don Rodrigo Maldonado, her suitor

Javier, her footman

Hernan and Esteban, her men at arms

Cristobal, a Taino captive

Rosa, a mule

Drina, a Rom girl

Shandor, her uncle

Marko and Tshilaba, her parents

Baxtalo, her dog

Queen of the Roma, her great-grandmother

Don Francisco Espinosa, a merchant noble of Seville

Doña Beatriz, his wife

Paquito, Horacio, Faustino, and Leon, their sons

Adelina, Eulalia, Graciela, and Aldonza, their daughters

Pancho, their servant

Amir, a Moorish slave

Fernando, a sailor, Diego’s friend

Fray Alonso, an inquisitor

Captain Olivero, a Genoese shipmaster

Hutia, Cristobal’s son, Diego’s friend

Tiboni, a

Tanama, a young Taino widow

Iguana and Aguta, players of

Yayama, Fernando’s Taino mistress

Pilar, a Spanish widow

Benito and Ana, her children






Hispaniola, December 24, 1492 - January 4, 1493

I crouched in the crow’s nest of the Santa Maria, praying to Ha’shem that I would succeed in coaxing my tinderbox to strike a spark. That spark must then ignite two short lengths of cable, dipped in lamp oil and wedged upright in an open leather pouch filled with sand, before anybody on deck noticed that I was not among them. It was the 25th day of Kislev in the year 5253 according to the Hebrew calendar, the second night of the Festival of Lights. It was also December 24th in what the others, including the Admiral, called the Year of Our Lord 1492: Christmas Eve.

My breath caught as the candles in my improvised menorah flared up, then settled down to glow with a steady flame. To my relief, they did not smoke or flicker. Getting caught would be a disaster too dreadful to contemplate: hanging, here or back in Spain, for practicing my forbidden Jewish faith, and a flogging I might not survive for that heaviest of transgressions at sea, kindling unauthorized fire on a wooden ship.

I muttered the
rather than chanting it aloud, as I sometimes did when the ship was scudding along under full sail and the wind’s howl drowned out my song of praise to Adonai. I would not have risked even that, but the watch had just changed, and all who could do so had dropped where they stood onto the deck and fallen at once into a heavy slumber.

They had good reason. For the past two days, we had been besieged by visitors from the villages beyond the shore of the beautiful bay the Admiral had named Santo Tomás. More than a thousand of the folk we call Indians for want of a better term had swarmed onto the Santa Maria from canoes, along with half as many more who came swimming out to us, although we had anchored a full league offshore. All were unclothed, even the women, and all bore gifts, evidently valuing a calabash of water or a strange, sweet fruit as highly as a nugget or ornament of gold. Though I would not confess it even to Fernando, my only friend on board, I had never seen a naked woman before. I accepted the fruit and water with thanks—none offered me gold—and shied away from their questing hands, which made them laugh. The older seamen had no such inhibitions. I kept my eyes on Admiral Columbus, who was dignified and gracious as always.

“Mark how freely they give, Diego,” he said softly at a moment when only I stood near him. “It is easy to recognize when something is given from the heart.”

My heart swelled with pride as always on the rare occasions when he spoke my name, tacitly acknowledging his old bond with my father, which must never be mentioned. Yet it also felt ready to burst with grief, in spite of the Admiral’s kindness. These naked and untutored folk welcomed strangers to their table, just as we had at Passover back in Seville, before we were driven out. Now we were all strangers in a strange land ourselves, my parents and my sisters far off in Firenze no less than my comrades and I on this unpredictable voyage.

My lip curled when it occurred to me that the villagers’ offerings of gold resembled the coin we gave to children at the Festival of Lights. It was at that moment that I conceived the plan of lighting my own menorah. I could not try it on the first night, when the decks were still crowded with visitors and not a man aboard had gotten a night’s sleep since we first greeted our Indian guests. When the excitement had seemed to be dying down, it was roused again by the arrival of gifts for the Admiral from a cacique named Guacanagarí, who seemed to be the king or prince of this region. Chief among the gifts was a magnificent mask with nose, tongue, and ears of hammered gold, along with baskets heaped with food, skeins of spun cotton, gold, and parrots that screeched, flashed brightly colored feathers, and dropped dung all over the vessel. Guacanagarí also invited the whole ship’s company, and the Niña’s as well—for the Pinta had gone off on her own some time before, and we were fearful of her fate—to come ashore and feast with him.

“He’s inviting us for Christmas dinner,” one of the seamen said, and all around him laughed.

dinner or
dinner?” another asked, and they laughed again. In fact, it was the warlike Caribe who were said to eat human flesh, not these amiable Taino.

But then all realized that if this cacique had so much gold to give away, it followed that he must know the location of the mine we had long searched for. Even Admiral Columbus’s eyes blazed with gold fever, for he longed to be able to lay a vast treasure at the feet of the King and Queen as repayment for the cost of the voyage. Our Indian interpreters from the other islands, at his urging, questioned many, but their dialect was different. Indeed, I thought these fellows had told us nothing but what they believed we desired to hear from the day we carried them aboard our ships. For many had escaped, and I believed that none of them stayed with us willingly, but only out of fear of our muskets and steel swords.

At any rate, the Admiral determined that we would keep Christmas with Guacanagarí.

“Our Lord in his goodness guide me that I may find this gold,” I heard him pray.

So we weighed anchor and bade farewell to the bay of Santo Tomás and its friendly people. By nightfall, Christmas Eve, we had reached the great headland that I could still see now from the crow’s nest if I looked astern, though in the dim light of the waning moon, it seemed no more than a looming black shadow. There was little wind, and the ship barely rocked as it moved onward, following the Niña, which had drawn ahead. Being a caravel, she was always a little faster than our sturdy tub.

I was just thinking what a blessing it was to have calm seas for my devotions—I knew from experience that the whole mast, with the crow’s nest atop it, swung wildly in any kind of swell—when a tremendous jolt and shudder knocked me off my feet and into the menorah. Luckily, the leather flap closed as I fell heavily against it, driving the candles into the sand and extinguishing them. Stuffing the whole into my shirt along with my tinderbox, I shinnied down the ropes and leaped softly to the deck, giving thanks to Ha’shem that my feet were bare and the night so dark that no one noticed.

The crisis was severe, for we had run aground upon hidden shoals while, as we learned later, all on watch, including the helmsman and the gromet or ship's boy he had ordered to take the tiller, slept. The next two hours were a time of chaos and confusion, shouting and a frenzy of activity in our desperation to save our ship. Whenever I paused in my labors, my heartbeat pounded in my ears. We were only a league offshore. If the Santa Maria broke up, I could swim ashore, as my father and the Admiral had in their youth when wrecked together off the coast of Portugal. That was the origin of their lifelong friendship, and my father, grateful for every day of his continued life since then, had made sure I knew how to swim at an early age. But the whole Ocean Sea separated us from the lands and people we knew. What if we were stranded on these shores with no means of return? We must not lose the ship!

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