"You know of him?"
"All the sailors' lore comes to the Canaries. We live by the sea."
"He caught the vision of the thing. But once he noised it about that he was going, we
started to get recruits. And it was his friends who ended up risking their caravels on the
"Not free of charge, of course."
"They hope to be rich, at least by their standards."
"As you hope to be rich by yours."
"No, my lady. I hope to be rich by your standards."
She laughed and touched his arm. "Cristóbal, how good it is to see you again. How
glad I am that God chose you to be his champion in this war against the Ocean Sea and the
court of Spain."
Her remark was light, but it touched on a matter quite tender: She was the only one
who knew that he had undertaken his voyage at the command of God. The priests of
Salamanca thought him a fool, but if he had ever breathed a word of his belief in God's having
spoken to him, they would have branded him a heretic and that would have brought an end to
more than Columbus's plan for an expedition to the Indies. He had not meant to tell her,
either; he had not meant to tell anyone, had not even told his brother Bartholomew, nor his
wife Felipa before she died, nor even Father Perez at La Rábida. Yet after only an hour in the
company of Lady Beatrice, he had told her. Not all, of course. But that God had chosen him,
had commanded him to make this voyage, he told her that much.
Why had he told her? Perhaps because he knew implicitly that he could trust her with
his life. Or perhaps because she looked at him with such piercing intelligence that he knew
that no other explanation than the truth would convince her. Even so, he had not told her
the half of it, for even she would have thought him mad.
And she did not think him mad, or if she did, she must have some special love of
madmen. A love that continued even now, to a degree beyond his hopes. "Stay the night
with me, my Cristóbal," she said.
"My lady," he answered, unsure if he had heard aright.
"You lived with a common woman named Beatrice in Córdoba. She had your child.
You can't pretend to be living a monkish life."
"I seem doomed to fall under the spell of ladies named Beatrice. And none of them has
been, by any stretch of the imagination, a common woman."
Lady Beatrice laughed lightly. "You managed to compliment your old lover and one
who would be your new one, both at once. No wonder you were able to win your way past
the priests and scholars. I daresay Queen Isabella fell in love with your red hair and the fire in
your eyes, just as I did."
"More grey in the hair than red, I fear."
"Hardly any," she answered.
"My lady," he said, "it was your friendship I prayed for when I came to Gomera. I did
not dare to dream of more."
"Are you beginning a long and gracefully convoluted speech that will, in the end,
decline my carnal invitation?"
"Ah, Lady Beatrice, not decline, but perhaps postpone?"
She reached out, leaned forward, touched his cheek. "You're not a very handsome
man, you know, Cristóbal."
"That has always been my opinion as well," he answered.
"And yet one can't take one's eyes from you. Nor can one purge one's thoughts of
you when you're gone. I'm a widow, and you're a widower. God saw fit to remove our
spouses from the torments of this world. Must we also be tormented by unfulfilled desires?"
"My lady, the scandal. If I stayed the night."
"Oh, is that all? Then leave before midnight. I'll let you over the parapet by a silken
"God has answered my prayers," he said to her.
"As well he should, since you were on his mission."
"I dare not sin and lose his favor now."
"I knew I should have seduced you back in Santa Fé."
"And there's this, my lady. When I return, successful, from this great enterprise, then
I'll not be a commoner, whose only touch of gentility is by his marriage into a not-quite-noble
family of Madeira. I'll be Viceroy. I'll be Admiral of the Ocean-Sea." He grinned. "You see,
I took your advice and got it all in writing in advance."
"Well, Viceroy indeed! I doubt you'll waste a glance on a mere governor of a far-off
"Ah, no, Lady. I'll be Admiral of the Ocean-Sea, and as I contemplate my realm --"
"Like Poseidon, ruler over all the shores that are touched by the waves of the sea --"
"I will find no more treasured crown than this island of Gomera, and no more lovely
jewel in that crown than the fair Beatrice."
"You've been at court too long. You make your compliments sound rehearsed."
"Of course I've rehearsed it, over and over, the whole week I waited here in torment
for your return."
"For the Pinta's return, you mean."
"Both were late. Your rudder, however, was undamaged."
Her face reddened, and then she laughed.
"You complained that my compliments were too courtly. I thought you might
appreciate a tavern compliment."
"Is that what that was? Do strumpets sleep with men for free if they say such pretty
"Not strumpets, Lady. Such poetry is not for those who can be had for mere money."
"Thou art my caravel, with sails full-winded --"
"Watch your nautical references, my friend."
"Sails full-winded, and the bright red banners of thy lips dancing as thou speakest."
"You're very good at this. Or are you not making it up as you go along?"
"Making it all up. Ah, thy breath is the blessed wind that sailors pray for, and the
sight of thy rudder leaves this poor sailor full-masted --"
She slapped his face, but it wasn't meant to hurt.
"I take it my poetry is a failure."
"Kiss me, Cristóbal. I believe in your mission, but if you never return I want at least
your kiss to remember you by."
So he kissed her, and again. But then he took his leave of her, and returned to the last
preparations for his voyage. It was God's work now; when it was done, then it was time to
collect the worldly rewards. Though who was to say that she was not, after all, a reward from
heaven? It was God, after all, who had made a widow of her, and perhaps God also who made
her, against all probability, love this son of a Genovese weaver.
He saw her, or thought he saw her -- and who else could it have been? -- waving a
scarlet handkerchief as if it were a banner from the parapet of the castle as his caravels at last
set forth. He raised his hand in a salute to her, and then turned his face westward. He would
not look again to the east, to Europe, to home, not until he had achieved what God had sent
him to do. The last of the obstacles was past now, surely. Ten days' sailing and he would step
ashore in Cathay or India, the Spice Islands or in Cipangu. Nothing could stop him now, for
God was with him, as he had been with him since that day on the beach when God appeared
to him and told him to forget his dreams of a crusade. "I have a greater work for you," God
said then, and now Columbus was near the culmination of that work. It filled him like wine,
it filled him like light, it filled him like the wind in the sails over his head.
Copyright © 1996 Orson Scott Card