Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Europe (excluding the United Kingdom) (02/19/09)
TITLE: The Edge
By Virgil Youngblood
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Not yet thirteen years old, it was the happiest day of Carlito Bermudez’s life, and the saddest. This morning before sunrise Cristobal Colon gave orders to lift sails on the carrack Santa Maria. Accompanied by the smaller caravels Pinta and Niña the fleet crossed the bar of Saltes sailing for India. Juan Arias, cabin boy on the Niña and Carlito’s best and only friend had told him it would be this way on this day. And so it must have been even if Carlito had not seen it.
He was far south in Portugal dangling his legs, the left one hopelessly crippled, over the sheer rock cliff of Cape São Vincent. If the ships hugged the coast sailing west past the end of the earth he would see the Niña by nightfall. He was fiercely proud and happy Juan had been chosen for he would become a seaman. Then Carlito sobbed out loud, remembering. Many sailors believed these vessels would sail off the edge of the ocean and never return. No map said otherwise.
“You dumb jackass!” he shouted. The burro had thrust his nose against the knapsack Carlito was leaning against, startling him. “You almost pushed me over the edge. I’ll go when I’m ready.” Sixty meters below sparkling blue waves crashed against the vertical rock face spraying sunlight jeweled mist upward. Caught by the strong August wind a damp vapor swirled over the cliff. Carlito hugged his coat closer to his body and pulled his hat tight against his ears. Thus he sat watching the eastern horizon throughout the afternoon. He moved little, only to ease a cramp or sip a little water from a baked clay jug or massage his aching leg.
The sun was diving toward the horizon behind his back and nowhere in the entire world did it appear larger or more beautiful as it sank out of sight. But Carlito, searching through the darkening mist for a speck of white foresail, did not notice. Overhead a Guincho sailed by riding the wind currents on outstretched wings.
Memories of good days in Henry the Navigator’s school had played in Carlito’s mind all afternoon. Until the water cask had fallen crushing his leg he and Juan had been called “the Twins.” Excelling in navigation classes Calito knew someday they would be ready. When Colon came to Sagres looking for crew, Juan had been chosen cabin boy for the Niña with pay of 666 maravedi per month. Carlito, understandably, no longer had a future as a sailor. Who would choose a cripple? “Dear, Dios! Why?”
“Juan!” Carlito cried into the wind searching the dark unbroken horizon a final time. Then, staring at the inviting foam-flecked surf far below Carlito whispered, “Adios!” Leaning over the edge Carlito spit. Turning he spoke to the donkey. “I must see Henry tomorrow. He may need a map maker’s apprentice.” Clutching his knapsack he limped to the animal and crawled on its back. Jabbing his right heel into its flank he shouted “Home!”
http://www.columbusnavigation.com Source of background material
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