For The Blood of Pigeons
Captain Abreu, feverish and in a great deal of pain rested crosswise in his hammock hung behind the ship's wheel, his feet compulsively tapping heel and heel in synch with his throbbing face and jaw. The Santa Catarina's surgeon had given Abreu a very generous butt of rum heavily laced with ground clove and willow bark as a brief surcease while he worked below decks to make a tincture of refined opium concentrate from recent acquisition in the battle and sacking of Malacca.
Veteran captain, and close friend and confidant of the High Commander Afonso de Albuquerque, Antonio de Abreu was not in a generous or forgiving mood. Of Abreu's courage there could be no doubt. He fought at the head of his crew and the crews of the two past ships under his command as a demon incarnate. His swordsmanship was impeccable and of a ferocity that often cowed his opponent into an early grave. During a pitched battle in the siege of the town, after cleaving a man from collar bone to sternum, Abreu whirled abruptly only to catch a piece of chain-shot from a swivel gun mounted on the balustrade thirty feet above him. He was knocked unconscious, bleeding copiously from shattered teeth and a half severed tongue.
The teeth he could repair with gold caps, if his rewards from this venture were substantial enough. The tongue was another matter. He did not need to speak clearly to bark orders to the men, and he could work that through his first mate, a half Chinese called Li Wei Matos Y Moreno. The mate had been with Abreu for over ten years and he trusted him and valued him more that his ship itself. The mate knew as did only Abreu besides, that there was a conflict of interests in this venture. His benefactor and patron the High Commander sent him to find riches. That was the common thread, but there, the path forked. The court wanted and needed gold. Not just gold that came from sacking a port, but a continuous source of gold to further the realm. Abreu knew from tales of his own ancestors, the stories shared with him from Matos Y Moreno about his grandfather, a supposed rabbi killed by the Inquisition, and his Chinese forbears who studied transformation and transmutation for the physical and mental longitudinal dimensions of human potential. Matos y Morenos ancestor did much the same, but also strove to bring alloys and metals together to achieve the purity of gold itself. Both families had, since times unremembered except through genetic memory and predisposition, been proficient in the preparation and application of gem elixirs.
Crystals of quartz, agate, fluorite, amethyst and citrine had all been used with desired results, but Abreu wanted to take the benefits up to new and much stronger vibrations. He was aware from his time in Ceylon that rubies held a very high purity and strong vibration. He believed that a properly prepared elixir of rubies could and would promote extreme longevity and a predisposition for success in endeavors of personal gain. Li Wei agreed with him and went so far as to say that in the Chinese disciplines of transmutation and transformation it could actually produce immortality.
The mate and the captain were synchronized in this effort and realized the value of outwardly keeping to the mission the High Commander had set them on. The problem was Abreu’s vice-captain Francisco Serrão who was a dogmatic adherent to word from above his station. There was no one above his station on the Santa Catarina and Abreu had fixated on this problem as his tongue wound festered and the pain from his shattered teeth allowed him no dormancy.
The weather was fine and the ship had anchored in the flats off the Ayerawaddy delta. The riches of Burma had long been spoken of in the important ports of Abreu’s world. The Arab traders of Gibraltar knew of it, those from the ports of Genoa and Dubrovnik told the same stories and the tales that Li Wei brought from the Chinese lore all served to lead Abreu to this river. The delta would be difficult to navigate, but with rowers pulling in the skiffs, and horses swimming in halter and pulling by cable on the banks where solid ground could be found would, with dint of constant soundings with the lead, bring them in the the estuary and then the river itself. The horses would further prove their worth with bringing select teams overland to follow information gleaned from captives and outright briberies were possible.
Li Wei sat at the bowsprit between watches. He listened and scrutinized the sea in the moonlight for any inclination of sail or oars approaching their caravelle. He knew well the history of piracy of the Malays in this area of the world and did not relish the idea of being put upon. The gunnery on the caravelle was more than adequate and the crew were all veterans of many pitched battles on land and ship to ship. With the captain absorbed in his pain and Serrão sticking rigidly to an unrealistic watch schedule, the mate attuned himself for acute watchfulness. In the hour before the rising tide near dawn he went to Captain Abreu and spoke. He told the captain the caravelle was ready to try the delta within the hour. The tide would be at its highest with the full moon above and there would be no better time. There was also a mild onshore breeze that would allow the smaller topgallants to be set in their favor. Abreu agreed and indicated to the mate to launch the skiffs with the rowers. The mate did so and stationed sounders on each side of the bow and along the rails in case of current drifting them to eddies along the shores. The horses would not be used until there was sufficient light and shore parties sent to test the firmness of the ground along the grassy and reed choked tufts of the delta.
They would take the eastern ingress and stop at Dagon to parlay with the monks there. Their plan was to “procure” a team of “guides’” and elicit information in the most expeditious way possible. Naturally the guides would not be seen again in the precincts of Dagon. They would tell the monks that their endeavors would be to assist in the location of jade and sapphires for the betterment of the Sangha. Though vowed into poverty, the betterment of the tributes to the Buddha was a viable incentive to the monks at the Shwedagon Pagoda. The fact that there was a jewel encrusted, golden sheathed 76 carat diamond was not lost on either the mate or Abreu. He had more than a passing interest in this but for the problem that it sat at the very pinnacle of the main Stupa there and was never out of the reach of observing eyes. The grace that Abreu allowed himself in this was that it was proof the the Sangha could be swayed to provide guides to procure more purity and light for the Buddha. The relics there were 8 hairs of Guatama Buddha, a staff and water filter from later Buddhas and a piece of the robe of Kassapa, the third Buddha.
Abreu was more paganistic than Catholic, but saw the importance to his conflicting missions of the beliefs of the Mon people of Dagon. That he would prey on any useful predilection of those around him to gain his ends was not a secret and something the the High Command valued in him. The thorn in his side was Serrão.