Below the main deck of La Trinidad, the young Jesuit priest huddled under a tattered blanket, clutching his seasick stomach. “This will all be worth it,” he said to himself, “when I arrive in the new world.”
Like everything else in his life, he was doing this Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam, as the motto of his order went- for the greater glory of God.
The ship lurched. So did his stomach.
Manuel de Alameda lifted his head to see who had addressed him. It was the first mate. “Yes?”
“We are almost there. Perhaps you would like to come up on deck? The fresh air will help your sickness.”
Manuel nodded, and the first mate helped him up. As he climbed to the deck of the ship, the priest found it difficult as ever to ascend the ladder in his long black robes. He could see the crew trying not to laugh as he crawled inelegantly out of the main hatch and stumbled to the railing.
“Why are they all in armor?”
The first mate shrugged. “It was the Captain’s order. He probably expects trouble from the natives.”
It did not seem likely, given the letter that had drawn Manuel from Spain in the first place. It was from his old mentor, Padre Hernando, asking him to sail to Xochitlan, a friendly Aztec city with more new converts than he could minister to alone. “I suppose he’s just being cautious,” Manuel concluded. Putting the strange order out of his mind, Manuel leaned against the railing.
* * *
Padre Manuel fervently praised God as soon as he set foot on shore. He embraced Padre Hernando but groaned when his old friend asked how his journey went.
“Come. You must be exhausted.” Hernando took him by the arm with a gentle smile. “I will bring you to my humble dwelling.” As they walked together, the old priest lowered his voice. “What are the orders of those soldiers?”
“They aren’t soldiers; they’re only sailors.”
“If they wear armor, they are soldiers.”
“Then at least they are Christian soldiers. They will not try to harm us or the people of X…Xoch… Well, they won’t harm the Aztecs.”
“That is where you may be wrong. Tonahuac, the ruler of Xochitlan…” He enunciated the city’s name carefully. “…accidentally insulted the captain of La Trinidad on his last visit. I fear Captain Castillo may have carried a grudge back to Spain and asked the king’s permission to attack Tonahuac’s people.”
“If you’re right, how do we stop him?”
“We can’t. At least… Not alone.”
* * *
Captain Castillo wiped at his sweaty brow. Who knew a fever could set in so quickly? And why did the doctor think those candles would help? He needed to cool down, not warm up.
“You’re dying,” his physician pronounced. “I’ll send for a priest.”
The captain privately doubted it was that serious. He still had things to do before he died.
As soon as the doctor left him, he reread the letter from King Phillip II, which authorized him to eliminate the Aztec threat. He wished he had told his first mate earlier. Maybe Padre Manuel would.
He shut his eyes and drifted off to sleep.
* * *
“Padre Manuel,” the sailor said, though he was reluctant to interrupt the priests as they were praying intensely for… something. He couldn’t understand Latin, but he could see by their expressions that it was important. “The captain is dying, Padre. Would you come?”
“Back to the ship?” Manuel turned green at the thought.
“You must,” his friend urged. “Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam.”
Of course, more Latin.
“Oh, very well.”
* * *
Manuel gently roused the sleeping man. “Captain?”
“Padre… I’m told I don’t have much time.”
“I know. That’s why I want to ask you now to call off the attack on the Aztecs.”
“Never!” Castillo cried weakly. “I will never…” He choked mid-word and stiffened in his bed.
“Captain…?” Manuel felt for a pulse but found none. He crossed himself.
Then he pried from the dead man’s hand a royal letter- a royal death warrant. Heart beating, he lit it on the captain’s candles, not even thinking of the laws that he was breaking by such an action.
“Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam,” he whispered as the page burned in his hand.
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