Thursday, 14 January 2010

Dorotheos' Tale

Dorotheos looked at the green land, full of expectation. It was Easter Sunday, 12th of April 1528, and the ship that carried him and the rest of the men from the expedition of Panfilo de Narvaez had finally arrived to the land of Florida. They had heard tales of 7-foot tall men with three eyes, of wild rituals and cannibalism. They had also heard of untold riches, mountains of gold waiting to be had, rivers of milk and honey, endless fertility and even the Fountain of Youth.

Dorotheos had come a long way, longer than most of his Andalucian fellow travellers and soldiers of fortune. The day he left his mother and his native Crete to embark on that Genoese pirate ship in search of glory and, above all, fortune against the Turk, felt like centuries away. His poor mother wanted him to become a man of the cloth, go to the monastery and perhaps help secure her and his sisters. His father had been long lost at sea, and his mother detested the idea that her only son could follow his path. And yet, here he was, about to embark on another conquista, the only El Griego to set foot on this new world.

They had been at sea for a few months, despite the short distance from Cuba. Their first concern was to find fresh water and something with which to tar the ship. 'Don' Dorotheos was sent with three others inland to find some kind of resin for this purpose. All the way to the woods he was daydreaming, full of wonder for this new land. His companions were more concerned with finding something too shoot and eat.

Dorotheos' thoughts flew to his sisters, his mother, his village. He wondered about his friends and his cousins who broke their backs for their Venetian lord and spent whatever time they had left on trying to harvest the fruit of that cruel mistress, the sea. Not him, he managed to escape that fate. Shortly after he embarked on the Genoese barque, they had some skirmishes with some Turks which brought him some money. He was brave and ruthless, and the opportunities abounded. It did not last though. One day the Turks caught him and would surely have cut his head off had he not been able to buy his freedom. He ended up on a Venetian ship, and from Malta he jumped on a Spanish one.

Narvaez brought him to the new world. Dorotheos was as curious and ambitious as the next man, and he swallowed the dream hook line and sinker. He would surely make a fortune and return to his land a lord The musket shot woke him up from his dream. His companions had shot a fowl and were off to fetch it. They made a fire, roasted it and ate it greedily. After their meal they gathered some resin and started heading back to the coast. They weren't alone though. Their hunting had brought them much more than they wished for, as they saw the natives carefully approaching from all directions. They were surrounded. There was no point in fighting, they were too many.

The natives let Manuel go to the coast to bring news of their capture. Narvaez was furious. He sent him back with an interpreter, demanding their release. The Indians did not care for his threats. In the meantime, Dorotheos and his two companions were kept tied up, frequently beaten and humiliated.

Narvaez and his men prepared to attack the Indian village. They had horses and dogs, both lethal out in the open. But in woodland they were of little use: the game was even. They engaged the Indians, and having killed many they managed to capture a chief and retreat. Dorotheos and his companions were nowhere to be found. Narvaez was getting impatient. They had to sail and he couldn't wait for the Indians to make up their minds. He offered to exchange the prisoners but the Indians refused. In a final attempt to terrify them into submission, he had the chief burnt alive. When the Indians didn't respond, Narvaez ordered everyone back to the ships and sailed off with a heavy heart.

Dorotheos' fate was sealed; the Indians had decided to kill them. As he felt the first arrows pierce his wretched body, in that short moment between living and dying, he thought of his friends, harvesting the blue sea, his mother and his sisters alone in the world, his father whom he was about to meet again.

Loosely based on the Narrative of Cabeza de Vaca. Doroteo Teodoro was a Greek, part of the expedition. He was abandoned behind in what is today western Florida and was probably killed by the natives. Real story here. Narrative here.

1 comment:

Biluś said...

A good read - thank you, just started my day with this :-)