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

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

Hakluyt Society second series no. X


Of how the Moors, following D. Christovão, found him, and seized him, and of How he Died.Edit

D. Christovão and the fourteen Portuguese with him, marching all that night, travelled with heavy labour, for they were all wounded and very weary. They had therefore [66] to leave the road they followed, and enter a shady valley, with a very thick growth of trees, to take some rest. As the morning was near, and there was great fear of discovery by the enemy who were in pursuit, having, as I say, left the path, they entered the bottom of the valley in the most solitary possible place, where they found a little water that flowed from a water-fall. They got D. Christovão off his mule to dress his wounds, which up to now they had not had time to do; his companions, not having wherewith to do it, killed the mule D. Christovão rode, and taking the fat, dressed with it his wounds, and also the wounds of those among them that needed it. When the Moors captured the camp some would not halt, but followed us relentlessly; on the road by which D. Christovão escaped there went twelve Turks on foot and twenty Arabs on horse-back, eager to capture him; at dawn they were beyond where he lay, and not finding him, they returned. Reaching the point where D. Christovao turned into the thicket, an old woman came out of the wood, looking as if she could hardly stand, and ran across the road; the Moors, to learn her news, tried to catch her, and followed her into the wood, without capturing her, as she ran from one thicket to another. When she got to the valley she crossed it, running fast, and entered among the trees where D. Christovão and the Portuguese lay. As the Moors followed with pertinacity, they would not abandon the pursuit, and thus came on D. Christovão, and taking him by surprise, with loud cries of "Mafamede," captured him. One of these [D. Christovão's companions] who was but slightly wounded, hid in the thicket and escaped, and from him we heard the story of the capture. It is impossible that that [67] old woman can have been any one save the devil, as she vanished from among them and was never seen again. This astonished the Moors greatly, who, from what they told us afterwards, considered that "Mafamede" had sent her to direct them; they returned contented with their prize, as they at once recognised D. Christovão by the arms he bore; thus they went with him, making him many mocks by the way, and giving him but evil treatment. Thus they brought them before the King, who was very pleased with the victory, with more than one hundred and sixty Portuguese heads before his tent: for he had offered a reward to any Moor who would cut off the head of a Portuguese, and his men, to gain it, brought him those they found on the field. When D. Christovão reached his tent, that dog ordered the heads of the Portuguese to be shown him, to grieve him; telling him whose they were, and that here were those with whom he had designed to conquer his country, and that his madness was clear in his design; and that for this boldness he would do him a great honour. This was to order him to be stripped, with his hands tied behind him, and then cruelly scourged, and his face buffeted with his negroes' shoes; of his beard he made wicks, and covering them with wax lighted them; with the tweezers that he had sent him, he ordered his eyebrows and eyelashes to be pulled out: saying that he had always kept them for him, as he and his followers did not use them. After this, he sent him to all his tents and his Captains for his refreshment, where many insults were heaped on him, all of which he bore with much patience: giving many thanks to God for bringing him to this, after allowing him to reconquer [68] one hundred leagues of Christian country. After they had diverted themselves with him they returned to the King's tent, who with his own hand cut off his head, it not satisfying him to order it to be cut off. After it had been cut off, in that very place where his blood was spilt, there started a spring of water which gave health to the sick, who bathed in it, which they understood the wrong way. That very day and moment, in a monastery of friars, a very large tree which stood in the cloisters was uprooted, and remained with its roots in the air and its branches underneath, the day being very calm and still; and as it appeared to them that this event was not without mystery, they noted the day and the hour, and that they were all present to give witness. Afterwards, when they heard of the defeat and death of D. Christovão, they found that the tree was uprooted on the very day and hour that he was killed. After it had died, the friars cut up part for use in the monastery; six months later, the very day we gave battle to the King of Zeila and defeated him — in which battle he was slain and the kingdom freed — that very day the tree raised itself, planted its roots in the earth whence they had been drawn, and at the same moment threw out green leaves. The friars, seeing this great mystery, with great wonder, noted the day and hour it happened, knowing nothing of what was passing in the kingdom. When they heard of what had taken place, they found that it was the very day, as I say, that was the signal of freedom for so many Christian people. When they told us this, as the monastery lay on the road to Massowa, whither after the [69] freeing of the country we were travelling, we all went to the monastery to see the tree and to bear witness. I saw it, with many of its roots exposed, all cut as the friars said, and it had only recently become green. As it was a great tree, it was wonderful that it could stand on the ground with so few roots below the earth. When, after the King of Zeila had cut off D. Christovão's head, that fact became known in the tents of the Turks, they were very enraged, and went angrily to the King, and asked him why he had thus killed the Portuguese Captain without telling them: because, as the Grand Turk had heard of his bravery, they could have taken him nothing from that country which would have pleased him more, that they would have taken him as a proof of their great victory to receive a reward from the Turk. They were so offended that they quitted him, taking the Portuguese to carry with them. The next day, when they started, there was one Portuguese, who had escaped, the less; he afterwards joined us, so that they went back with twelve and D. Christovão's head. They embarked for Azebide, where was the Governor of all the Straits, with three thousand Turks, of which body they formed a part. Two hundred were left with the King of Zeila, because they filled up the vacancies of those who were killed in the battle from among the others, as this number was granted by the Grand Turk in exchange for his tribute. The King stayed three days at that place, with great content at the victory, for such is their custom, making great festival; and as it appeared to him that we were entirely destroyed, and that those who remained of us would be lost in that country, among those mountains, [70] where we could not find our way, he determined to visit his wife and sons, whom he had not seen for a long time, who were in his city on the shores of the lake whence the Nile flows, the most rich and fertile country that ever was seen. This he did, leaving in that country his Captains, with troops to retake possession of the land he had lost; for of us he took no count, bad or good, but the Lord God chose to show His great pity.

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