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The Empty Hammock

The Empty Hammock

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Workaholic, Ana Mendez, was certain that her mother was getting senile, when she said she found a treasure chest in the backyard. After unsuccessfully trying to open the old treasure chest, Ana fell asleep in a hammock, and woke up in the year 1494 in Jamaica! It was the time of the Tainos, a time when life seemed simpler, but Ana knew that all of that was about to change. It was also the time when she would discover the love of two men, a Taino chief and a Spanish adventurer, both of them determined that they would never let her go...
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Cádiz, Spain
September 22, 1493

Juan Pérez stared at the buzz of human activity before him. There were at least two of his ships at the port—their broad sails flapping in the wind as their crew tied ropes around the billowing cloth. He counted the ships; there were seventeen of them, all being prepared for the journey to the New World.
At least five shipping companies were represented at the port, and Juan couldn’t help wondering if the owners were as crazy as his father, to dedicate so many ships to this foolhardy venture of Cristóbal Colón.
Colón had told them of a new world, filled with gold and precious stones and unsurpassed beauty. Yet, why would one believe that such a place existed; the possibilities simply defied the mind. He had tasted the sweet juicy yellow fruit of the pineapple and had seen the scared-looking natives that Colón had brought back, but gold and precious stones sounded like a calculated bid for the funding of his next voyage.
Colón’s voice was replaying in Juan’s mind as he announced to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, “I have found a shorter route to Asia; the islands I have seen are unrivaled in beauty.”
Everyone had welcomed his announcement in awe. However, over time, there were rumors that he was a liar and a fortune hunter, disguising himself as an explorer. Some said he was a spy; there were those who even implied that he was distracting the sovereigns from the actual route to Asia.
The Queen’s palace was always rife with rumors and innuendos, and he barely paid attention to it, most of the time, but he became skeptical when his father decided to involve two of their ships to transport animals and plants on Colon’s second voyage to the unknown. He had personally volunteered to supervise the packing of the ship because he was averse to this risk.
The men were happily bustling about their business. The anticipation of seeing the unknown was thick in the air, and even Juan’s skepticism was slowly melting in the face of such energy and expectancy.
“Look at them,” Philippe Vásquez whispered near his ears.
Juan jumped; he hadn't heard his approach. “Look at whom?” he asked, following his friend’s eyes as it raked over the busy port in contempt.
“The stupid goats,” Philippe spat.
Juan laughed. Some men were leading goats, sheep and cattle into his merchant ship. He had no idea that his friend, who also owned a shipping line, had a problem with goats.
“There is no need to sound so put-out by the goats,” Juan said, glancing at Philippe’s scowling expression. “I think the horses and the cows deserve some anger too.”
“I am talking about the men,” Philippe growled. “They have latched on to this idea of a new world, and they are giving up their lives here for it. They are as stupid as goats."
“I guess we aren't as adventurous as they are. You have Millicent and your children, and I,” he pointed to himself with a flourish, “have a business to run with a father bordering on senility, and a few ladies in Isabella’s court who think me attractive and couldn't do without my presence for a single day.”
"You are full of it, mi amigo," Philippe said, looking at Juan. He was tall and broad-shouldered. He had thick black hair and green eyes, which looked like polished jade. His nose was straight and lips sensual. Women were always throwing themselves at him, even the Queen herself was known to give him audience regularly.
He looked down at himself. He was portly; his belly round from consuming too much liqueur and paella. He was a slave to paella, the delicious dish of rice, saffron and olive oil topped with meat and vegetables, which he consumed at least six times per day. It was never going to make him sleek and buffed like Juan. He looked balefully at his friend’s handsome profile and squelched a sigh.
“There he is,” Juan said and gazed through the sea of men to focus on the man who was whispering to himself and stumbling through the men unheeded. He had what appeared to be a parchment paper in his hands.
"The fool," Philippe sneered. "I wish that Pinzón had reached port first. Then he wouldn't walk around with such an air, as if he knew it all as if he made the discovery of the century."
“Your anger confounds me,” Juan said, frowning. “It matters not who came to port first; he was the one who came up with the idea to sail to look for new lands. Pinzón’s ships were inferior. The Pinta is now a wreck of a ship because he raced it to death to reach Spain before Colón.”
“Word is he raced the ship to reach a doctor,” Philippe murmured. “He caught a deadly disease from one of the natives. The poor bugger must have seen all of that naked beauty and couldn’t keep his hands to himself.”
Juan gazed at Colón, who was advancing to their side of the port. The stench of gutted fish was becoming stronger in the air as the sun became hotter. Colón was clutching his rosary beads, and his lips were moving as if in prayer.
The rumors that he must have been lying to the King and Queen, and that there was no gold or precious stones, seemed incongruous to the humble figure striding toward them. What if Colón was telling the truth?
His palm felt damp, and his heart sped up. The sense of adventure he had killed as a youth after he had taken up his post as head of his father's shipping business, reared its tempting head. He was just five and twenty. His mother was not from the merchant class, but she was the only daughter of a Vizconde, and he was her sole heir. He could afford to fritter away his time at court or go to this new world and see for himself what attracted Colón and these other men.
How could he rest until he saw the New World, be a part of history in the making?
He glanced at Philippe as he snarled at the approaching Colón, and he knew what was ailing his amigo. Philippe was tied down with his burden of family and other obligations, and he was angry with anyone who seemed to be enjoying the freedom of traveling to uncharted lands.
Colón stumbled up to them, muttering. He bowed slightly to Juan, acknowledging his royal connections, and then looked balefully at Philippe. His soft hat was brimless and bright red, which matched his tight hose and soft shoes. The man was dressed like royalty.
Philippe stiffened. “Colón,” he addressed the man wearily. “Are you now totally loco that you walk around muttering to yourself?”
Colón flushed and gazed squarely at Philippe. His light gray eyes flashed with anger. "I am now called the Admiral, and I would appreciate it if you would use my title. As for my mental state, I was royally and divinely commissioned to find a shorter route to India, and to Christianize the people there.”
Philippe’s smile did not quite reach his eyes. “As you wish Admiral: discover new lands, Christianize the heathens. Conquer for Spain.” His voice was sarcastic. He bowed slightly and then spun around, intending to walk away.
“Ehem,” he cleared his throat and turned back. “By the way, I do not believe a word of what you are saying. There is just something that tells me that I should not trust a man whose name I do not even know. Your name is not really the ‘Christ Bearer’, is it? Are you really Cristóbal Colón? Rumor has it you are part Jew and part spy for the Portuguese king.”
Colón glanced at Juan furtively then sighed. “I have nothing to hide; I work for Spain.”
Philippe snorted derisively, saluted to Juan and then walked off.
“What does he mean by not knowing your name?” Juan asked curiously.
“I…I don’t know,” Colón said hurriedly. “The man hates me as do some of the rich merchants in his class. Your father and a few others were not as skeptical. Are you coming to the New World with us, Juan? We sail in three days."
Juan allowed the change of topic and looked down at Colón. He was at least five inches taller than him, and he wasn’t really tall, by any means. “I was just thinking about it. The adventure would be good. It would give me something to tell my children about in the future.”
Colón nodded eagerly. “You could travel on your own ship.”
“That I would do.” Juan looked at the bustle of activities on board the ships and grinned. “I have not sailed in a while. My captain, Pablo will relish my company when I return to sail on El Dragón.”
“I have a feeling this trip will mean a lot to you,” Colón said and pointed at the treasure chest, which was at Juan’s feet. “You could fill that with gold, or better yet, carry a bigger one.”
Juan picked up the chest and rubbed his initials at the side. “I could do that, couldn’t I?”
He stared at the calm sea at the port in Cadiz and envisioned a new world with seas of different hues of blue. He could feel the wind swirling around him as he sailed, the golden sunset beckoning him to an island made of pure gold.
“I will speak to my father about my absence,” he said thoughtfully. “I wouldn't want him to worry; my mother will think I will be eaten by savages and will try to stop me.”
Colón guffawed. “The people I have met so far are the kindest and gentlest you will ever meet. They are so innocent; it's as if they are not of this world.”
Despite the noonday sun, Juan shivered. There was a premonition in the air. He sucked in his breath and nodded as if forced. "I will come with you, and I will bring this chest."