The Portuguese Expedition to Abyssinia in 1541–1543/Chapter XII

The Portuguese Expedition to Abyssinia in 1541–1543  (1902)  by Miguel de Castanhoso, translated by R. S. Whiteway
Chapter XII

Hakluyt Society second series no. X

Of how D. Christovão in nearing the plains of Jarte, met an Ambassador from the Preste, and of the Warning received that the King of Zeila was near.Edit

We had marched for two days towards Jarte (para o jarte) which is the lordship of that Captain I mentioned, when, while we were pitching our camp, there arrived an envoy from the Preste, with a message for the Commander to march as quickly as might be, while he did the same, in order to join before meeting the King of Zeila, who had a large force, and with whom a fight by one alone would be perilous. Thus we marched on until we reached the plains, where came the Captain of the country, to ask pardon and pity of the Queen, who pardoned him, for she had had many communications from him, and knew that he was always a Christian. He visited D. Christovão, and presented him with four very handsome horses, and told him that he knew that the King of Zeila was coming in search of us, and that many days could not elapse before we met him; that he should make what arrangements were necessary, and that he himself would send out spies to discover what was occurring. D. Christovão asked him to do this, and determined to march slowly, [40] awaiting our men, fearing lest the King of Zeila should come on us before we joined the Preste. We marched forward in this way, with many spies ahead of us, who two days later returned to us with the news that the Moors' camp was near, and that we should meet before the next day. When D. Christovão found that he could not avoid a battle with the Moors without losing the reputation we had gained, he determined to accept it; for he felt, concerning the country people, that if he retreated to the hill they would disobey him, and would not assist him with any supplies; and that it was far the greater risk to chance famine, and losing our prestige, than to fight the Moors, for victory is in the hands of God. With minds made up we continued our march, and when we reached some wide plains two horsemen, who had been ahead scouting the plain, returned, saying that the King of Zeila was a league away. We at once pitched our camp, and it was the Saturday before Palm Sunday. D. Christovão, as the Queen came in the rear, and had heard how near the enemies were, went out to receive her with great parade and joy, for she was a woman, and came filled with fear at the news. Encouraging her greatly, he placed her in the centre of our camp, which was this same day pitched in proper order, and arranged to await in it the Moors; for the ground was very suitable, as we occupied the best site on the plain, for we were on a hillock in it. All the night [41] we watched vigilantly, and the following morning, at dawn, there appeared on the summit of a hill five Moorish horsemen, who were spying the plain; when they saw us they retired to give the news to the King. Then D. Christovão sent two Portuguese on good horses to ascend the hill, and discover how large the enemy's camp was, and where pitched; they returned directly, saying that they covered the plains and were halted close to the hill. While his camp was being pitched, the King of Zeila ascended a hill with several horse and some foot to examine us; he halted on the top with three hundred horse and three large banners, two white with red moons, and one red with a white moon, which always accompanied him, and by which he was recognised; thence he examined us, while the rest of his army, with its bannerets, descended the hill and surrounded us. Such was their trumpeting, drumming, cries, and skirmishing, that they appeared more numerous and stout-hearted [than they were]. D. Christovão, thinking they meant to attack us, visited all the defences. We were ready for the fight; but they did no more than hold us surrounded all that day and that night, lighting many fires everywhere, and with the same noise and music. We feared them greatly that night, for every moment we thought they would attack us. We stood ready and armed, with powder-pots in our hands, matches lighted for the artillery and matchlocks, firing from time to time the bases as a guard, for we feared much their horsemen. We learned afterwards, from the Abyssinians who were with them, that they dared not attack us at night because our camp appeared from the outside very formidable, both because of the shots we fired from time to time, and [42] because of the many matches they saw lighted, of which they had great fear; they said it could not be we were so few as we appeared by day.

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