The Admiral’s Refutation

The Admiral’s Refutation

by Stefan Lang

Setting: The Nasrid Palaces of the Alhambra, Granada, Spain

Date: November 1500

Characters:

Don Cristobal Columbus – Admiral of the Ocean Sea, Viceroy of the Indies

Queen Isabella – Queen of Castile

King Ferdinand – King of Aragon and King Consort of Castile

Alfonso Diaz de Montalvo – Jurist to the Queen

Bartolomé Columbus – Cristobal’s Brother, Adelantado of Santo Domingo

Diego Columbus – Cristobal’s Brother

Diego Deza – Grand Inquisitor of Spain, Supporter of Columbus

Nicolás de Ovando – A Spanish Soldier

Royal Council Members

 

 

 

 

 

Act 1, Scene 1

At the royal court of the Alhambra, the famous palace in the once Muslim bastion of Granada. It is the 11th November 1500. In the Hall of the Ambassadors. The room is high, with a domed ceiling, provoking a cavernous echo after every loud noise. The walls are of an exquisite decorative quality, a veritable facade of multi-coloured arabesques and motifs constructed during the Moorish rule. Six intricately-patterned stone pillars, twenty feet apart, descend from the roof to the floor, creating an artificial walkway from the wooden door to the throne area. Two gold thrones stand side by side, elevated several feet above the foundations by a series of red-carpeted steps, upon which sit the Catholic monarchs. They are bathed in light from a ceiling portal, providing a contrast to the murky interior of the rest of the room. Unlike the architecture of the walls, the thrones resemble the style of Castile and the Spanish Renaissance, symmetrical in appearance and functional in nature, with the royal seal carved into each foot.

Queen Isabella, her fair brown hair hanging below her shoulders from under a silver tiara, pale face concentrated upon the walkway in front of her, occupies the one throne. To her left, King Ferdinand, her consort, his dark hair held back behind his ears, ruddy cheeks brightened by the descending light, sits in contemplative silence.

A messenger enters the great court-room, closing the door behind him. He advances towards the throne, his face turned downwards, and bows at the foot of the stairs leading up to the throne.

Messenger: Your gracious majesties, I bring a message.

Isabella (her face upturned): Pray tell.

Messenger: Your gracious majesties, I bring news that Don Cristobal Columbus, Admiral of the Ocean Sea and Viceroy of the Indies is arrived at the palace from Cadiz.

Isabella: Escort him to us.

The messenger turns, without looking up and hurries through the great oak door.

Ferdinand (Staring ahead): They have released him then.

Isabella: Indeed. For I ordered as such so that our faithful navigator might have his chance at explanation and reconciliation.

Ferdinand: Dost thou agree with his arrest?

Isabella: Our lord Bobadilla deemed it a necessity. The reports have not been favourable towards Don Cristobal. By accounts, his governorship threatens our survival in the New World.

Ferdinand: In that case Bobadilla was correct to have him arrested.

Isabella: Perhaps. Although I do feel a degree of indebtedness towards our Christian navigator. His accomplishments are many.

Ferdinand: We have rewarded him royally Isabella. It is not for us to bestow compensation on the unworthy.

A knock on the door disrupts the conversing monarchs. It is flung open by the same messenger as before.

Messenger (With a flourish of his hands): Your gracious majesties, I present to you Don Cristobal Columbus, Admiral of the Ocean Sea and Viceroy of the Indies.

Columbus enters, his expensive white-silk shirt torn and dirty. He advances towards the throne with a pained hobble. He settles at the foot of the stairs and kisses the carpet in front of him.

Columbus (Face touching the floor): My gracious Catholic monarchs, revered throughout the Old World and the New, I offer my humble services to you, knowing I am indebted to your conscious will and wisdom.

Isabella (Peering down at the grovelling man): Don Cristobal, our faithful Genoese servant, we hear troubling reports of your conduct. And that of your brothers, I might add. It is not satisfying to see you in such a state. Please, lift thy sorrow brow and look into the eyes of your Queen.

Columbus (Looking up tentatively): Your majesty, the reports you hear are nothing but vicious slander and misinterpretation. I have always tried to act in the interests of your most honourable Catholic crown.

Ferdinand (Interjecting): That may be so Don Cristobal, but that does not mean thou hast acted in our interest, however benevolent your intentions. Is that not so?

Columbus is silent

Isabella (Unrolling a parchment): I have before me, Don Cristobal, the charges laid upon you. They are, I am afraid, many. However, three in particular must be explained by your person. (Aside)The bureaucrats can see to the more trivial crimes.

Columbus (Kneeling, hands clasped together): Pray, majesty, tell me what treacheries I stand accused of.

Isabella: Don Cristobal, you stand charged with the following three acts of villainy. Firstly, of excessively abusing the native population of the isle of Hispaniola and its neighbouring domains. Secondly, for failing to provide adequate sanctuary and prosperity for our Spanish subjects present in the said lands. Finally, and most serious of all, for showing laxity in spreading the Holy Catholic faith to the indigenous populace. How say you to these charges?

Columbus: How fate mocks me with the setting of this trial whence once I saw the Moorish King come forth from the gates of this city and kiss the royal hands of your majesties and there proving the one true religion of Christ.

Isabella (Firmly): How say you to the charges Don Cristobal?

Columbus (Tearful): I reject them totally your gracious majesties and shall work to refute every claim of that fiend Bobadilla.

Ferdinand (Sharply): That “fiend” was chosen, at your request it should be noted, by the Crown, in order that thou should receive the help thou desired with the administration of our Western territories.

Columbus: Forgive me sire, I meant no offence. Alas, that man is but a blight on the foundations we have worked to build. His motivation for my arrest was personal, his desire to seize control in a dictatorial fashion tangible.

Isabella: Don Cristobal, you need not be any more emphatic in your rejection of these charges. We have noted your personal views on Señor Bobadilla and shall not prejudice his word over yours.

Columbus (Making to stand): Thank you your…

Isabella (Hand raised): Silence, Don Cristobal. We have procrastinated long enough. May I suggest you begin your refutation before we all wither under the constraints of time?

Columbus (Bowing mechanically): Certainly, your gracious majesties.

Ferdinand (Fingering a gold ring on his left forefinger): It may be prudent, Don Cristobal, if you proceed in a logical manner, referring to each of the three charges in turn. That way, we shall be better placed to pass judgement based on the specific evidence you provide.

Columbus (With another servile bow) Of course your majesty.

Ferdinand: May I also suggest we restrict ourselves to a charge per sitting? These thrones serve little benefit to the royal posture.

Columbus: I shall endeavour for haste and clarity your majesties.

Isabella: One final thing. (Shout)Messenger!

The messenger from earlier walks hurriedly from the oak door, his head bowed.

Messenger: Your majesty.

Isabella: Fetch Señor Montalvo.

The messenger exits.

Ferdinand (Aside to Isabella): You deem it necessary to involve Señor Montalvo?

Isabella (To the room): He is our chief jurist is he not? This is a matter of legality and potential criminality. It would be unwise to proceed in his absence.

Ferdinand nods reverentially. Simultaneously, the messenger returns through the oak door.

Messenger (Loudly): Your gracious majesties, I present Don Alfonso Diaz de Montalvo, Chief Jurist of the Castilian Court.

Enter Montalvo, dressed in a black silk shirt, with matching pantaloons. He has trimmed black hair, a healthy complexion, and a full black beard. He strides purposefully towards the throne area.

Montalvo: (Bowing but remaining on foot): Your majesties, my attendance was requested?

Isabella: Señor Montalvo, you are familiar with Don Cristobal Columbus, discoverer of our Indian territories to the West?

Montalvo (His hand outstretched towards the still-kneeling Columbus): It is a name one cannot help but admire, although I have never had the pleasure.

Columbus does not see the hand.

Isabella (Rebuking): Don Cristobal, I shall not have thou grovelling throughout thy refutation. Pray stand and take the hand of our worthy lawyer.

Columbus stands, face down, and takes Montalvo’s hand.

Ferdinand: Señor Montalvo, we merely require your audience for Don Cristobal’s refutation. Any points of the law with which we are not well-versed, we shall refer to you. However, for the sake of the royal stomach, make any interruptions brief.

Montalvo (Sycophantically): Of course your majesty.

Montalvo retreats to the side of thrones, his level below that of the elevated monarchs. Columbus faces the audience, his back turned to the King and Queen.

Isabella: Begin, Don Cristobal, with your response to the charge of excessive native abuse.

Columbus (Clears his throat before beginning): Your majesties must understand that on first contact there was nothing but mutual respect and friendship between the Christians and the Taino people. We, having travelled with such uncertainty for so long, were relieved to have found civilisation in a land previously unknown to man. They, a primitive and shy people, welcomed us as divine representatives and showered us with praise and gratitude for having come to offer them spiritual salvation. Those first heady days of contact we all hoped would be a precursor of future relations.

Ferdinand: Yet they were not?

Columbus: (Bowing his head): I am afraid not your majesty. For no sooner had we made it clear that our presence was not merely temporary, the natives became altogether changed in their attitude and goodwill. They became devious, your majesties, beyond reproach.

Isabella: In what way did they deceive our Christian subjects Don Cristobal?

Columbus (High-pitched tone): In numerous ways your majesty. For a start, they misled us with rumours of gold. They promised us abundant mines of pure ore; alas, they delivered us only streams of placer. For a second instance, they frequently hid and failed to report for their work duty. They simply retreated into the forests, where many of them dwell, and did not make good on their promise of labour.

Ferdinand: Enlighten me, Don Cristobal, about this work duty, as you call it.

Columbus: It is a simple system your majesty; one employed in colonies throughout history. In return for providing the Christians with labour, the individual Taino receives a share of the yield, as well as the protection of his ancestral lands.

Ferdinand: Serfdom?

Columbus: A vulgar term, your majesty, but the principles are similar I grant you.

Ferdinand (Standing and reseating himself): Aside from their refusal to work their own lands for your benefit Don Cristobal, and being unclear in their references to gold, what other indiscretions have the natives been guilty of to provoke physical punishment?

Columbus: Like I say, your majesty, they are deceptive. At first, they informed us that there were no men on the neighbouring islands. Indeed, they persisted with this gross lie even after I myself had seen evidence to the contrary during one of my reconnaissance voyages.

Ferdinand: And what made them lie?

Columbus: These other men, your majesty, Caribs by name, are the sworn enemy of the Taino. They are aggressive of temperament and have been known to slaughter the Tainos in their thousands. It is certain that our hosts wished us to refrain from disseminating the rich proceeds of Christian civilisation to their natural foe. But, thou must understand, the Caribs are far more successful in cultivating crops and considerably stronger of body, making them more desirable both for trade and labour purposes. The Taino deception has therefore not aided our honest attempts at colonial development.

Ferdinand (Suspiciously): How can thou be certain that you are correctly interpreting their alien tongue? They are not, I presume, Latin speakers?

Montalvo chuckles noisily, provoking a malicious stare from Columbus.

Columbus: No, your majesty. Their language is crude, unsubtle and they suffer from poor enunciation. Nevertheless, communication through signs has always proved an effective means of conversing.

Ferdinand: How so?

Columbus: It is simple, your majesty, to point at a gold medallion and convey a question of its whereabouts. The natives do not pretend to misunderstand us. In fact, they always give overlong responses, garbled in sound, but intricate in visual detail. (Adamantly) I refuse to believe I have misinterpreted them.

Ferdinand: But can you be sure that all your men are as well-versed in the art of sign-language as you Don Cristobal?

Pause

Ferdinand: Am I to take it that thou cannot?

Columbus: A humble mortal cannot answer for all his men, your majesty.

Ferdinand (Raised voice): Yet you were our Governor of the Indies Don Cristobal. I am simply putting it to you that the provocation you felt may have resulted from a series of misunderstandings on the part of your men, whom thou were responsible for!

Columbus: Whether that is so, your majesty I…

Ferdinand (Interrupting): So you don’t deny that a misunderstanding is the probable answer?

Columbus: Whether it was…

Ferdinand: Answer the question Don Cristobal!

Isabella (Aside to Ferdinand): Pray settle Ferdinand. Allow the Admiral to finish his account. It is not for us to judge prematurely.

Ferdinand nods acquiescingly but sighs.

Isabella (Gently): Pray continue Don Cristobal

Columbus bows to Isabella

Isabella (Firmly): After thou have answered the question

Columbus (Sweeping back his bedraggled hair): I answer yes, your majesty. Misunderstanding could have been a factor; although I think it unlikely. Even so, whether it was or not, it cannot explain the calculated massacre of La Navidad that tragically befell our Christian comrades some seven years past.

Isabella: We are familiar with the events in question.

Columbus (Turning to the audience): Thirty-nine men dead! The first Christian town in the West burned and pillaged! A massacre! A butchery of innocents! How could one stand idle to such devastation? How could one not desire retribution?

Ferdinand: Though I am not one to denigrate our fellow countrymen, I was led to believe that the native attack at La Navidad was in response to several months of Christian brutality. As you yourself would say, Don Cristobal, such collisions of humanity oft occur in new colonial settlements.

Columbus (Accusingly): From who did you hear such slanders?

Ferdinand (Controlled anger): As I recall, it was you who informed us of the circumstances of the massacre, during your condemnation of Diego de Arana, who you left to rule in your stead at the conclusion of your first voyage. Remember…it was but six years ago.

Columbus (Quiet): I may have passed judgement against Arana and his men…

Ferdinand: Pray speak up Don Cristobal

Columbus (Voice raised and trembling, talking quickly): What I said then was born out of frustration. The massacre was a coordinated attack led by Guacanagari, the local cacique. On our return seven years ago we found European objects hoarded in native huts. It was a deliberate attempt to rob us and remove our carefully-developed foundations on the island!

Isabella: So, Don Cristobal, what you are saying is that, in response to these alleged acts, you condemned the native population of Hispaniola to seven years of brutal repression?

Columbus (Panicking): Not at all, your majesty. You asked in what way they were devious. I have told you. Of course, punishment was meted out for the heinous massacre and other, more unsavoury, crimes against the Christians. But I swear I was never excessive.

Isabella (Consulting the parchment): Don Cristobal, twenty-three witnesses have sworn a shared oath, claiming that your punishments, for even the most trivial offences, were far more severe than was required.

Columbus (Shocked): Twenty-three?

Isabella: Indeed. Their reports appal me. (She reads from the parchment)Torture, of varying kinds; theft of land and crops; forced labour; murder; rape! Aside from worshipping their pagan religion, Don Cristobal, your administration stands accused of the worst crimes known to man! Can it be that thou are lying to us, Don Cristobal? Or art thou incapable of rationally assessing thy own actions?

Columbus kneels again, in silence, a solemn expression on his face.

Ferdinand: I think we have enough information to digest from the first part of your refutation Don Cristobal. I suggest you return to your quarters for some replenishment. I, on the other hand, shall seek sustenance from the dining hall. Thou hast thy notes Senor Montalvo?

Montalvo: Yes your majesty

Ferdinand: Good. We shall reconvene in the morning.

Isabella and Ferdinand exit stage with Montalvo. Columbus remains kneeling in silence.

The curtain falls.

Act 2, Scene 1

Scene: The Hall of the Abencerrajes. Elegantly furnished in Alhambra fashion, the floor is of white marble slate, each tile equally proportioned. In the centre of the square room stands a stone fountain, water spouting from intricately-carved miniature minarets. To the side of the fountain is a long, rectangular wooden table, topped with a tablecloth of red silk and silver platters and goblets. An array of dishes sits untouched upon it.

Sitting at opposite ends of the table, Isabella and Ferdinand take supper, whilst conversing on the afternoon’s conference. Each monarch is flanked by an attentive Servant, who frequently refill glasses and replenish dishes.

Ferdinand: (Wipes his mouth): Peter Martyr once told me how this room received its name.

Isabella (Intrigued): Ah, how is Peter? It has been some time since his presence at court was felt.

Ferdinand: He is in Egypt on a mission of diplomacy. The Sultan seems intent on revenge for the Moorish expulsion from our lands. Apparently he is threatening our good Christian pioneers in North Africa.

Isabella: How unfortunate. Well, I can think of no better man than good Peter Martyr to diffuse the tension.

Ferdinand: Quite. (Takes a mouthful before continuing)Anyhow, according to a particular Moorish man of letters Peter once befriended, this hall is named after a rather unsavoury event.

Isabella (Sips from goblet): How so?

Ferdinand: As I understand it, the Nasrid ruler of the time – Boabdil’s father I think – deemed his rule under threat from potential usurpers. These were the clan of the Abencerrajes. Consequently, the sultan – Muley Hacén that’s the name – invited his rivals to dine with him here in order to resolve the future succession.

Isabella: And he betrayed them?

Ferdinand (Laughs): Yes! The sultan had them all massacred in this very room, which had been none other than a room of prayer for the Moorish heathens! Yet, as we know, the massacre was in vain for his lineage was soon at the mercy of our mighty armies. (He pauses and looks heavenwards) My, I remember that day when Boabdil rode out to meet us on horseback at the foot of his citadel. (He laughs again) Fancy those heathens committing murder in the very room dedicated to religious sanctity! Little wonder we reclaimed this Granadan Kingdom with such ease!

Isabella (Displeased): Perhaps. But the story does little to whet one’s appetite Ferdinand. Besides, remember poor Beckett slain in the bowels of Canterbury Cathedral.

Ferdinand: Ah, but that was the English who, as we have become accustomed this past year since Catherine’s betrothal, are a strange and passionate people. Religion and politics do not sit easily beside one another across the windswept channel. (He distracts himself by looking around the hall)Though I do wonder whether the story of this pleasing gallery be fact or fiction. You can never be sure with these heathen historians. They tend to shape history with their own chosen mould. One cannot swear by it.

Isabella: Do you think Don Cristobal attempts to shape his story likewise?

Ferdinand (Contemplative pause): I hesitate to commit. There is something off about the man; that is for sure.

Isabella: Has he not served us well?

Ferdinand: His achievements are masterful, that I shall not deny. Indeed, I remember when he came to lobby us at this very citadel eight years past. Never had I seen such conviction and zeal from one man and never have I since. And he a foreigner, at that. However, we are talking about a multi-faceted man. I tell you, it is not his exploratory powers I doubt.

Isabella: You think we should have been more prudent in electing a governor?

Ferdinand (Grunts): The charges against him are damning! I cannot believe that Senor Bobadilla would go to such lengths merely to disparage Don Cristobal.

Isabella: I agree. There has to be some merit in the indictments, although I do not see Don Cristobal as a brutal man.

Ferdinand (Nodding): His appearance would suggest contrary. But how can one decipher the true degradation of the human spirit in such a primitive and plague-riddled wilderness? There is no telling the effect such surroundings can have on a man.

Isabella (Raised voice): Surely one cannot excuse the extremities of his actions! Torture, murder, rape! A more unholy trinity I could not comprehend. Even if more than one pair of hands turned the handle on the Rack, Don Cristobal holds responsibility.

Ferdinand (Brusquely): I myself have little problem with the punishments meted out. If history has taught us anything, it is that the conqueror must be ruthless in his subordination of the conquered! (Slams fist on the table). It is the role of our united Catholic kingdom, one so ascendant in our Terra Mundi, to impress our dominance upon the heretics.

Isabella (Astounded): How can you turn a blind eye to such indiscretions? Were you not the one berating Don Cristobal in the Hall of Ambassadors? These creatures belong to God. However infantile they may be, their humanity must not be denigrated.

Ferdinand (Takes a sip of wine): My berating Don Cristobal, as you put it, was a simple ruse to provoke an honest response. He is obviously fain to mislead us.

Isabella: So your conscience bears no burden for the mistreatment of the Taino race?

Ferdinand: A burden, yes. But in terms of the extent of their punishment, not in the nature of that punishment.

Isabella: Pray explain yourself.

Ferdinand: Senor Bobadilla’s report suggested widespread physical abuse of the heathens did it not?

Isabella (Frowning): It did.

Ferdinand: According to the report, the pace of Taino depopulation is astounding. The rate of replacement is not nearly sufficient enough to compensate for those dying as the result of Don Cristobal’s somewhat coarse regime.

Isabella: I believe many fall prey to pestilence as well.

Ferdinand (His goblet being refilled): Quite. That is also referenced in the report, as you know. Don Cristobal’s brutality, or negligence, whichever it may be, is causing a severe labour shortage in our Western territories. How can I rest easy knowing my faith in Don Cristobal has indirectly threatened the sustenance and, by extension, the survival of our Christian subjects in those lands?

Isabella (Surprised): Your primary concern is with labour?

Ferdinand: What single factor determines the fate of an occupying power? (Standing) It is labour; the ability to coerce and maintain native toil for self-preservation, whilst harnessing the domestic knowledge of ancestral generations in foreign climes! It is this determinant that occasions for the endeavour of administration. Do you not see that our colony is at the mercy of indigenous labour?

Isabella (Standing): I think perhaps you are being melodramatic Ferdinand. However, your lament raises a related issue. You say that labour determines a colony’s fate?

Ferdinand: I know it.

Isabella: Then, evidently, it would be prudent to appease our hosts rather than alienate them. Do you not agree?

Ferdinand (Shrugs): They must be aware of their masters.

Isabella: Indeed they must. But not through merciless cruelty; rather, through the benevolent patronage of our Lord and the Blessed Virgin Mary. Spiritual satisfaction equates to the temporal, Ferdinand. Religious inspiration is what the natives require.

Ferdinand (Laughs condescendingly): These people are idolaters Isabella! They are satisfied only by earthly pleasures. What they require is disciplined submission (Quieter),which I admit cannot be achieved through mass slaughter. One subdues an alien people into subordination through selective force. The subsequent control of a settled labour corps is all-important.

Isabella (Walking towards Ferdinand along the side of the table): One subdues an alien people into subordination through the permeation of one’s values into their uneducated society. Only through a shared ontology can the occupier expect willing subjection.

Ferdinand (Helped into a silken robe by his Servant): It appears we differ in our colonial perspectives then.

Isabella (Holding Ferdinand’s hand): Yes. But one thing we can agree on I believe is Don Cristobal’s first refutation.

Ferdinand (Hands flung up): It is unsatisfactory!

Isabella: Certainly. Whatever provocation he suffered, his willingness to overlook such brutality against the natives, a fact which is beyond doubt (Ferdinand nods), has hindered the development of Hispaniola.

Isabella and Ferdinand begin to head off stage.

Ferdinand: We shall no doubt hear his next defence on the morrow. By the way, have his brothers yet arrived?

Isabella: I believe he as at conference with them now.

The curtain falls.

Act 2, Scene 2

Scene: Located in one of the Alhambra’s many outbuildings, there is a squared room of whitewashed walls. The room is sparsely furnished, with only a simple wooden table and three rickety chairs at its centre. A single bed of straw stands in one corner, covered by a thin, woollen blanket. The room is lighted by a lone wax candle, which stands in the centre of the table, next to a bronze crucifix.

Columbus kneels in front of the table, his head bowed down in front of the cross. His brothers, Bartolomé and Diego, are also present. Bartolomé sits in one of the wooden chairs, his right leg folded over his left. Diego sits on the straw mattress, his hands clasped together.

Columbus: Lord, I pray of thee to set me free from my chains of misery. I have sinned for sure, but I am not the monster my enemies portray me as. My actions have always been conducted with consideration to your highest authority. I pray to thee, show me the right course, as you once did in those dark October days of eight years past, when storm and starvation threatened our quest. I pray thee to forgive me for any unjust suffering I have inflicted upon our Christian subjects and to forgive my enemies for the slander they have wrought upon me. They shall pay heavy recompense! Please Lord, give guidance to our beloved Catholic Monarchs who, in your name, have brought glory to this pious kingdom! Pray endeavour to make them see their faith was never betrayed by this humble servant. It is only to them and you Lord whom I pledge my unquestioning allegiance. Amen.

A Guard enters carrying wooden plates of food. He places them down on the table and returns shortly afterwards with a cask of water. He then exits. Columbus rises from his position of prayer and sits at the table with Bartolomé. Diego soon joins them.

Bartolomé (Hurriedly carving up his piece of mutton): You do not have to appease the Lord, Cristobal. He is aware of your innocence.

Columbus (Ignoring his plate of food): We must all appease the Lord, Bartolomé. Whether we have sinned or not we must appease him. Though it chastens me to say, it is their majesties that we must now placate. Their trust in me, once so strong, has dissolved, like the rivulets of Hispaniola in summer.  (Sighs) Oh how I miss those rivulets in summer; those beautiful valleys, well cultivated, the crops appearing like the wheat on the plain of Cordoba in May; the fine beaches, covered with fruit-bearing trees of many kinds; that pristine coast, soft bottomed, rockless; the fine, healthy air…

There is a lengthy silence and Bartolomé exchanges a look of concern with Diego.

Bartolomé: Their majesties are forced to consider the evidence presented to them. I assure you, their trust in us is preserved. Alas, our only path to true salvation lies in the Western isles.

Columbus (Head in hand): How is that so?

Bartolomé (Ripping into the mutton with his teeth): The ones who can contradict Bobadilla’s slander reside under his beady eye in Hispaniola. A trial is unjust without a full courtroom.

Columbus: Her majesty begs to differ. Apparently no less than three and twenty of our comrades-in-arms have placed their seal on our guilt.

Bartolomé (Scoffing mirthfully): Hand-picked no doubt by the aforementioned scoundrel himself! I would request to see the parchment in question Cristobal. Some of these eminent witnesses may have made their statement from beyond this mortal realm.

Columbus (Sitting up): You think it a fraud?

Bartolomé (Jovially): Why, of course! Their majesties, and the court in general no doubt, have not the faintest idea as to who survives in Hispaniola. Indeed, they probably imagine the population to be as of Cadiz. Our own somewhat lax censuses have helped to distort that particular picture.

Columbus: But the report contains sworn evidence of depopulation and Christian pestilence. I must defend myself on that account tomorrow!

Bartolomé shrugs and returns to eating his mutton.

Diego: May I suggest something?

Columbus (With waved hand): Go ahead Diego, my own faculties have far surpassed the point of ingenuity. Your words of advice will be but a blessing in comparison.

Diego: Thank you. (He moves his chair closer to Columbus, his face illuminated by the candlelight) It seems you have become a victim of your own defensive nature Cristobal. The proof against you, if proof it may be termed, is based on testimony, not evidence. By taking a consistent line of self-justification in your refutations, you will only serve to perpetuate the idea of your guilt.

Bartolomé (Waving a piece of meat in his hand): He is right Cristobal! You must take a more offensive stance.

Diego (A disdainful look at Bartolomé): Indeed, as I say, your tactics are self-defeating. It is in your interest to revive the fruits of your labour. Remind their majesties of all that you have done for this realm: your sacrifice for their honour, the discovery of abundant bountiful lands, the procurement of riches! Distract their minds from this distasteful business! Allow them not to forget your accomplishments!

Columbus (Stands and wonders around the table): What you say may be true dearest Diego. It is now seventeen years since I came to serve these princes with the Enterprise of the Indies. They made me pass eight of them in discussion, and at the end rejected it as a thing of jest. Nevertheless I persisted therein. Over there I have placed under their sovereignty more land than there is in Africa and Europe, and more than 1,700 islands. In seven years I, by the divine will, made that conquest. At a time when I was entitled to expect rewards and retirement, I was incontinently arrested and sent home loaded with chains. The accusation was brought out of malice on the basis of charges made by civilians who had revolted and wished to take possession on the land. Yet my heart retains a feeling of failure.

Bartolomé (Standing with the cask of water): Have we not all fallen prey to error? Is our judgement always beyond reproach? Must we suffer for every lapse?

Columbus (Quietly): Redemption is not easily found.

Columbus begins to pace the room, reading from his bible. Bartolomé and Diego begin a conversation in private.

Bartolomé: His spirit wanes Diego. A man of piety suffers doubly under duress. Yet on his performance our legacy hinges.

Diego: It is doomed unless we convince him otherwise.

Bartolomé: Will their majesties agree to grant us audience?

Diego: Not alone. With Cristobal, perhaps. However our presence will only confirm any suspicions they have about his honesty. Why would he request his brothers’ attendance without good reason?

Bartolomé: It is a point worth making. What with that shrew Montalvo present, it would be hopeless for us to intrude.

Diego (Bitterly): His presence is most unfortunate. His forked tongue would be the envy of many a serpent.

Bartolomé: Cristobal says he remained silent today; he simply stood by the thrown, glowering from the royal shadow.

Diego: Bad tidings in itself. If Montalvo stays mute, we shall lose.

Bartolomé (Whispering harshly): Then he must be provoked. His jealousy drawn out cunningly!

Diego: Which returns us to our dilemma: our dear brother’s moralising. He must be convinced that he is not responsible for the crimes attributed to him. We need a performance from him come tomorrow!

Columbus returns to the table and seats himself.

Columbus (Wavering momentarily): Perhaps my exploratory instincts overrode my duty to govern. Perhaps I misjudged His divine will! Too often was I absent from the land entrusted to me! My wanderings were ill-advised!

Bartolomé (Places his arm around Columbus’s shoulder): Your absence was necessitated by an urge to discover more; to expand the limits of the known world. Besides, it was I who so often governed in your stead; I who was your Adelantado. If blame is to be placed, it should fall upon my shoulders.

Columbus (Turning to hold his brothers arms with his own): Were you aware, Bartolomé, of the extent of the abuses wrought by our subjects?

Bartolomé (Stepping away from Columbus): The abuses you speak of have been greatly overestimated. Yes, heavy punishments were awarded, (spinning around) but for just cause. Do not let them sway you Brother with their malicious falsehoods.

Diego (Fingering through the Bible): Bartolomé is right Cristobal. Your absence was prolonged, it is true. Yet that fact alone is enough to exonerate you. How could you be responsible for any crime when your presence was so sporadic?

Columbus (Desperately): That is no defence Diego! My absence in itself was dereliction of duty! A duty our gracious majesties assigned to me in person! What does that say about my loyalty?

Bartolomé (His hand returning to Columbus’s shoulder): Better it be dereliction of duty than mass murder! For that is what you stand accused of!

Columbus (Weakly): Mass murder…

Diego: This dual morbidity is no solution! There is an advantage to be gained from the dilemma confronting us. Cristobal cannot stand accused for crimes committed away from his presence. That is a fact! His long absences may be interpreted as a neglect of office, yet they needn’t be so! What have you sought all along Cristobal?

Columbus does not reply.

Diego (Louder): Cristobal, what is that you seek across the Western Ocean?

Columbus (Standing and shouting): I seek the lands of Asia Diego! I seek the fair shores of Cipangu; I seek the islands of spice, where cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves stand ready to be plucked from the loamy earth; I seek the Great Khan in his refuge of splendour at Xanadu, where marble walls and silken cords rise from beautiful meadows, strewn with exotic beasts; I seek the land of Cathay, where our Venetian Saint Marco received such royal welcome in palaces of opulence; (Voice quietens) I seek the earthly Paradise…

Diego (Stands, shaking his fists determinedly): Precisely Cristobal! Precisely! What monarch would deprive his finest navigator of such accomplishments? What monarch would settle for a scattering of uncivilised lands? We near Asia Cristobal; your own calculations show it is so. Why, if we are not in fact on the outer territories of the Asian Peninsula itself! The Great Khan waits to greet you! And so will their majesties, once you convince them of your endeavours. To dwell on the happenings of a pestilential islet is an affront to Christian glory. We shall proselytize to far grander lands yet!

Columbus (Stepping slowly forward, head raised): Perhaps you are right Diego. Maybe my destiny has not yet eluded me. Have I not always felt God’s tremulous pulse within my heart, pushing me onwards to greater glory? The monarchs shall see that it is so!

Bartolomé (Moving to stand behind Columbus): But beware of Montalvo!

Columbus (Confidently): Montalvo, a lowly clerk! What hindrance can he pose to a navigator executing God’s will?

Bartolomé (Aside to Diego): Is it not funny how one’s passions fluctuate?

Diego (Aside to Bartolomé): In men of nervous disposition, it is a certainty.

Columbus (Moving back to the table and raising the cask of water): Come my brothers! May we drink a toast, lacking in potency though it may be, to the restoration of our titles!

Bartolomé and Diego share an anxious stare.

Bartolomé (Aside to Diego): I hope our brother does not waste his good spirit for the morrow.

Diego nods several times, before joining Columbus at the table.

A Guard enters abruptly.

Guard: A visitor for Don Cristobal.

Columbus (Looking up): Pray let them enter.

Guard: Very well. I present His Holiness, Bishop Diego Deza, Grand Inquisitor of all Spain.

Enter Deza. He is dressed in his vestments; a full-flowing black cassock, beneath a white clerical collar. His greying hair is topped by a black zucchetto.

Columbus (Standing on seeing the bishop): Your Holiness, can it really be you?

Columbus falls to his knees at Deza’s feet.

Deza (Sternly): Yes, it is I Don Cristobal. Many years have I waited for our paths to cross again. And your brothers are by your side in your hour of need. I am pleased.

Bartolomé and Diego kneel to kiss Deza’s hand.

Deza: Enough with the formalities. Let us sit.

Deza sits at the small table. Columbus and Bartolomé take the other chairs. Diego has to make do with the bed.

Deza (Taking Columbus’ hand): How long has it been Cristobal?

Columbus (Joyfully): Too long Your Holiness. Too long! I believe we have not met in seventeen years, since your patronage afforded me a presence at the royal court.

Deza: Seventeen years? Has it really been so long? Our worlds have changed somewhat in the intervening period have they not?

Columbus: Beyond recognition! I only heard recently of your promotion to the highest office. Grand Inquisitor! What an honour!

Deza: I have been esteemed beyond my wildest ambitions, it is true. Yet following dear Torquemada is no easy feat.

Bartolomé (Slyly): I can well believe that. I thought he would never leave us.

Deza (Chuckles sinisterly): He did possess a degree of eternality about his person that is for certain. Yet even the men of strongest will fall prey to physical frailty. He was bedevilled in later years you know. Though he never let it interfere with his God-given duties.

Columbus: Tell me Your Holiness; are you still the Bishop of Salamanca?

Deza: Not since two years past Cristobal. At first I transferred to Jaen. Now I have been reassigned to Palencia in the north. I go wherever experience is required. We have a number of youthful clergymen these days, you see. I do not mean to insinuate that they are ill-equipped. Perhaps, overzealous would be an apt phrase. Our work requires patience as much as action. The consequences of ninety-two continue to this day.

Diego: You mean trouble with the conversos?

Deza (Turns to face Diego): Indeed I do. They are cunning these Jewish and Moorish heathens. Why, they are the epitome of piety come Sunday service. Yet, infiltrate their home and abominations beyond imagination are revealed.

Diego: They continue to worship false idols?

Deza: Not only that! They mock our very Church! Crucifixes! Statues of the Blessed Virgin! Hidden away, to be revealed in times of inquiry! It is very dispiriting.

Columbus: Are there no genuine converts?

Deza: Oh there are of course! Do not let my selfish complaints diminish the hard work of my predecessors. Indeed, I have just returned from Palencia, where I personally baptised two-thousand Moriscoes. Their piety is beyond doubt. Even the town elders vouched for their spiritual honour. But when heretical grains remain hidden within the field, the potential for a bad harvest lingers. It is such a pity that the Holy Majesties, whose rule has been so enlightened, could not expel more than they did to the African hinterlands. Alas, they tried!

Diego (Rising from the bed): Their majesties are unaided by false reports. Even our fellow Christians have proved disloyal on occasion.

Deza: Yes, I heard. My appearance here is unscheduled. I am stunned by these accusations Cristobal! From where have such malicious falsehoods arisen?

Columbus (Quietly): A man called Bobadilla.

Deza: Bobadilla! I do not know of such a man. How can their majesties prejudice his word over yours Cristobal?

Columbus remains silent.

Bartolomé: They have a sworn confession of over twenty witnesses, testifying that Bobadilla’s accusations are justified Your Holiness.

Deza stands and paces the room. He returns to the table and places his hand on Columbus’ shoulder.

Deza (Sincerely): Is there any truth in their accusations Cristobal?

Columbus nods once and then bows his head.

Bartolomé (Rising): They are greatly exaggerated! The…

Deza (Speaking over Bartolomé): You nod in shame Cristobal. So…there is truth in their slanders?

Columbus: I cannot answer Your Holiness. So rarely was I present on Hispaniola and its surrounding domains that I know little of what they speak.

Deza: Yet your guilt lies in your negligence?

Columbus: I fear so. What kind of administrator absences himself from his realm of authority? Whatever actions took place occurred in my name.

Deza: Your lack of supervision alone must not be used to excuse certain atrocities. Although I would like to gander at the charge-sheet myself.

Diego: It is a strange thing. Their majesties, so often careful in abiding the most marginal details of the law, are reluctant to give the defence a share of the evidence.

Deza (Puzzled): That is unlike their majesties.

Bartolomé (Angrily): It is that Montalvo! I am sure of it! His rotten lies have infected the court and blinded their majesties!

Columbus: Their majesties would not be swayed by a man of letters Bartolomé! Two finer pioneers of Renaissance thinking you shall not find. Their actions are dictated by them alone, nobody else!

Deza (Gravely): You must ask them directly for the parchment in question Cristobal.

Columbus: If they want me to see it, they will have a copy made.

Diego: Your legacy rests on your prudence Cristobal. Not only that, but the success of the colonising mission, which would have been impossible without the Grand Inquisitor here, and your dreams of reaching Asia.

Columbus (Wearily): How much lies on my dramatic performance.

Deza: You have inner strength innumerate Cristobal. I would not have placed such faith in a man so anonymous without this guiding power. God’s spirit rests inside you, and I shall pray for your release from this torment. And it shall be so! Now…I must go. The city of Granada is a bastion of the heretics. My work cannot rest.

Diego (Clutches at Deza’s cassock): Have you time to make audience with their majesties Your Holiness? A man so esteemed as yourself can sway judgements.

Deza (Pulling his cassock free): If only I could. Alas, their majesties commission me for my spiritual guidance, not my political convictions.

Diego: Is this not a matter of spirituality?

Deza (Heading offstage): Of course. But my work awaits me. Farewell brave navigators. I shall return before much time elapses. (Turning as he leaves) Remember Cristobal: God meant us to smite the heathen in his name. Charity towards barbarians is a sign of spiritual weakness. Do not let others convince you otherwise.

Deza exits.

Diego (Aside to Bartolomé): This man of status is a study in self-preservation.

Bartolomé (Aside to Diego): What a pity our dear brother suffers such contrary delusions. (To the room) Well, my straw mattress beckons me. It is time I left.

Diego: I too sense that the lateness has sapped my spirit. Till tomorrow Cristobal. Good luck. And remember: your achievements outrank your failings. Do not be afraid to relive them.

Bartolomé: Good night brother. Do not allow that scoundrel Montalvo to best you. His glory pales in comparison to yours. We shall retain our legacy!

Bartolomé and Diego embrace Columbus before exiting. Columbus returns to kneeling, the bronze crucifix now grasped tightly between his cusped hands.

Columbus: Lord, provide me with the strength that eludes me. Please reveal unto me the secret of my salvation. I shall remain your unbending servant.

The curtain falls.

Act 3

Early next morning.

In the Hall of the Ambassadors, Isabella and Ferdinand are seated on their thrones. As the previous day, they are bathed in light from the porticoes above. Montalvo, the jurist, stands by their side, parchment and quill in his hand. A Messenger waits expectantly at the opposite end of the colonnaded hall.

Isabella: Have you yet devised the sub-charges Senor Montalvo?

Montalvo (Nervously scribbling on the parchment): Almost Your Majesty. The list is a long and potent one.

Isabella: A pity.

Montalvo: I can edit it Your Majesty.

Isabella: No Montalvo. The law must be followed.

Ferdinand (Peers sceptically at the parchment): Exactly how many sub-charges are there?

Montalvo: Seventeen Your Majesty.

Ferdinand (Standing): Seventeen! No, no, that will not do! These thrones are not accommodating to such long sittings!

Isabella (Annoyed): Pray sit Ferdinand. Don Cristobal need not refute each separate charge. It is but a means of ensuring he is inclusive in his defence. It was Montalvo’s idea.

Ferdinand (Retaking his seat): It was? Then it will do. He has yet to fail us.

A loud knock resounds and echoes throughout the hall. The Messenger exits.

Ferdinand: It appears your Admiral has arisen Your Majesty.

Isabella: Be not facetious Ferdinand, you know he serves us both. And I need not remind you with what distinction.

Ferdinand (Arrogantly): That judgement, I believe, is what this inquiry seeks to decide.

The Messenger returns, followed by Columbus.

Messenger: (With a flourish of his hands): Your gracious majesties, I present to you Don Cristobal Columbus, Admiral of the Ocean Sea and Viceroy of the Indies.

Ferdinand (Aside to Isabella): Your messenger is quite the dramatist.

Columbus hobbles forward, his left knee threatening to buckle underneath him. He prostrates himself at the foot of the stairs leading to the royal thrones.

Columbus: Your majesties, I am honoured to once more be at your service.

Isabella: Welcome, Don Cristobal. Please stand if you will. My eyes grow weary of your backside attire.

Columbus (Struggling to his feet): My apologies Your Majesty.

Ferdinand: You appear to ail Don Cristobal. I pray your confinement has not been a discomfort to you.

Columbus: With respect to Your Majesties, the only discomfort derived from my incarceration is spiritual. My arthritic limbs are a mere symptom of a life on the great seas.

Montalvo (Smiling): An occupational hazard I presume.

Columbus (Staring at Montalvo): Indeed. We men of action have them.

Isabella: I think we should begin do you not Don Cristobal? I fear a prolonged debate on the human anatomy otherwise.

Columbus (Bowing stiffly): I am ready to commence Your Majesty.

Isabella (Receiving the parchment from Montalvo): Good. In that case Don Cristobal, how say you to the charge of failing to provide adequate sanctuary and prosperity for our Christian subjects in our new lands of the Indies?

Isabella hands the parchment back to Montalvo.

Columbus (Decisively): I dismiss the accusation Your Majesties.

Ferdinand: Pray embellish your dismissal with some supporting evidence Don Cristobal. Whilst I would like to take you at your word, I fear it would be negligent of me not to pry further.

Columbus (Walking away from the thrones to face the audience): I am stunned and slightly confused in regards to this particular accusation Your Majesties. Am I to determine that I am being charged with impoverishing my fellow Christians?

Montalvo (Coughs): That is the main charge, although one which is multi-layered. Additionally…

Ferdinand (Raising his hand to silence Montalvo): As Senor Montalvo quotes Don Cristobal, that is the main charge. Start with that in mind.

Columbus: I still do not understand Your Majesties.

Ferdinand (Half-standing from his throne): What precisely do you not understand Don Cristobal? The charge appears quite straightforward to me. A man of your intellect is surely in no need of further explanation is he?

Columbus: I understand the charge Your Majesty. What I do not understand is how I can have been presented with it.

Ferdinand (Aside to Isabella): Does he stall us deliberately? The man is clearly not of sound mind.

Isabella (To Ferdinand): Patience is a virtue Ferdinand. If you continually interrupt him we shall be denied further progress.

Columbus (Shocked): I am accused of impoverishing people who were already poor! Men, like myself, who saw wandering as a means of betterment! Men, destitute after the Reconquista, who sought an arena for their skills and were offered one! Men, whose presence on history’s pages is a work of miracle! These poor men, destined as they were for a life of peasant’s toil, accuse me, the one who offered them an escape, of reducing them to indigence! Where, I ask, is the crime?

Ferdinand (Irritably): The charge is lain out before you Don Cristobal! The former livelihood of the subjects in question is not a matter for discussion. Besides, I resent your insinuation that we rule over an impoverished people. You think we allow our subjects to live in deprivation?

Columbus (Kneeling again before the thrones): Not at all Your Majesty! You misinterpret me.

Ferdinand: Do I? Did you not just say that these men were trying to escape a life of toil and hardship?

Columbus remains silent.

Isabella: Perhaps, Don Cristobal, you best explain yourself in a more precise manner.

Columbus (Rising): My aim was not to label your glorious realm as poor, or your people as indentured to the land. I merely observed, on taking leave of Palos eight years past, that my recruits were men of a destitute composition. Their lands had been ravaged by years of drought and Moorish plunder; their families had succumbed to starvation and plague! I cannot see how these people, minority that they may be, can accuse me of worsening their lot!

Ferdinand: They do not accuse you of worsening their lot Don Cristobal. Their accusations stem from a complete disregard for their temporal well-being. Surely you did not mean them to remain impoverished, if that is what you judged them to be on departing?

Columbus (Panicky): But Your Majesty, I cannot be held accountable for their deprivation. They had no right to expect lavish material rewards!

Ferdinand (Surprised): Did they not? Did they not have expectations of their governor? Need I remind you of your first glowing reports of the islands you encountered Don Cristobal?

Columbus is silent.

Ferdinand: Perhaps I should. Montalvo, I believe you have an illuminating transcript from Don Cristobal’s journal.

Montalvo (Stepping forward, before bowing elaborately): Indeed Your Majesty.

Montalvo hands some parchment to Ferdinand who proceeds to read.

Ferdinand: “The year of our Lord 1492, October 13th. The natives came loaded with balls of cotton, parrots, javelins, and other things too numerous to mention…I gathered from them by signs that by going southward or by steering round the island in that direction, there would be found a king who possessed large vessels of gold and in great quantities”. (He pauses for a second before resuming) “October 16th: This is a very large island where on which, I understand, is a mine of large gold”. (Again he pauses, this time to clear his throat and turn the parchment) “October 19th: farther within the island is a village, where our Indians inform us we shall find the king, and that he has much gold”. (Ferdinand passes the parchment back to the grinning Montalvo) I can select further examples of your promises of wealth Don Cristobal but I deem it to be a waste of time, do you not?

Columbus (Grovelling inelegantly): Your Majesty, those first reports were dependent on native rumour. It soon became evident that they had misled us. The abundant gold of which they spoke was a mere pittance.

Ferdinand (Dismissively): As you made clear to us yesterday. Yet, what interests me, is that you used these indigenous reports as evidence of the Indies’ wealth upon your return from your first voyage seven years previous. Am I wrong?

Columbus (Stutters hesitantly): Seven… seven years is a long time Your Majesty, my memory…

Ferdinand (Raising his voice): Am I wrong Don Cristobal?

Columbus: I may have used the natives’ reports for embellishment, yes.

Isabella (Speaking before Ferdinand): Upon which we financed your second venture into the Western territories. Your falsehoods disappoint me Don Cristobal.

Columbus (Hands clasped): Your Majesty, I was torn between a paucity of evidence and a conviction that great riches lay ahead. It was not my intention to fool you. I believed my judgement sound. My discoveries have not proved so unprofitable have they?

Ferdinand: They could not easily be described as prolific, Don Cristobal. Nevertheless, that is an irrelevant matter for now. I would like to return to the charge of reducing our Christian subjects to such a deplorable state of being.

Montalvo (Moving to the foot of the thrones, alongside Columbus): If I may Your Majesties, I would like to expand upon this somewhat broad charge by offering Don Cristobal some specific accusations. (He smiles at Columbus) So that he is better able to defend himself?

Isabella: Very well Senor Montalvo. Do you have any objections Don Cristobal?

Columbus (Head lowered): No Your Majesty.

Montalvo unravels a piece of parchment.

Ferdinand (Disinterestedly): Restrict your expansion to the most pertinent points Montalvo. I am to meet the Royal Council at lunch.

Montalvo: Of course Your Majesty. (He turns to face Columbus, reading from the charge sheet): Don Cristobal, your subordinates on the isle of Hispaniola accuse you of the following: siphoning building materials for ship repairs; prohibiting them from conducting exploratory missions in search of wealth; hoarding gold for your family; reserving the biggest work groups for your family; reserving the best lands for your family; refusing to grant citizens an audience; excessive punishments against Christian subjects; failing…

Ferdinand (Standing): That will do Montalvo! We must not overawe our good admiral. (He turns to Columbus) So, Don Cristobal…pray stand (Columbus stands) are the crimes more evident to you now?

Columbus (Standing to face the audience): Clear they are. False they remain. I say again that these charges are a conspiracy against my person and my family. One need only look at the individual accusations against the Columbus name. I swear, with God as my witness, that I have never privileged my family above others. Native work groups and communal lands have always been divided fairly. You must understand that with an increasing number of Spanish emigrants, coupled with the tragic depopulation of the Taino people, resources are stretched. An individual cannot think himself more worthy of land and labour than the next, regardless of his status. These people come to a foreign land; yet they refuse to change their European ways. Why should one expect their native civilization to transplant so naturally overseas? These men, thieves and villains many, are unwilling to break sweat for their fellows. They insist upon instant prosperity without the slightest consideration of the practicalities of administration. We are limited territorially. We are limited in our resources. And when they are surprised by their lack of material expansion, what do these villains do? They act alone! They invade the property of men that were present before them; men who have a stake in our Indies! Why should they escape punishment, when they would hang for their offences here? Is it not our stated goal to replicate European society? From your accusations it appears that way!

There is silence in the room for several seconds.

Isabella (Speaks slowly): It would be far easier to sympathise with your plight Don Cristobal if these problems had been brought before us previously. Several times you have visited our court since eight years past; never before have you made these complaints. Why, the only reason you requested assistance was because of your own physical infirmities. You have constantly led us to believe you were in control. It appears you have frequently misled us. That alone makes your refutation dubious.

Columbus (Wearily turns to face the throne): I have always privileged spiritual richness above material wealth.

Isabella: And you are to be commended for it.

Ferdinand: So you admit that your subjects were deprived materially?

Columbus: I admit to nothing. Those men lived according to the wealth of the land. They had the option to follow me to greater glory and refused.

Ferdinand (Suspiciously): What greater glory would that be Don Cristobal? I hope you have not laid claim to lands independent of our sovereignty!

Columbus: No Your Majesty. But Asia draws ever nearer. I shall yet dine at the court of the Great Khan in my lifetime!

Ferdinand: I admire your optimism Don Cristobal. But can you be surprised that few follow your path when they are subjected to such brutality on land? I was always led to believe that punishment at sea was doubled in severity. Therefore it is unsurprising that they remain landlubbers I think.

Columbus: The only brutality committed against my men has been the result of indigenous assault. Even these attacks have become less common.

Ferdinand: So neither you, nor one of your brothers perhaps, has ever ordered the execution of a fellow Christian?

Columbus (Shouting indignantly): Never! If anything we have been overly-cautious in our use of prohibitive violence!

Montalvo scoffs at this latest remark.

Columbus (Addressing Montalvo): And who are you to pass judgement on a land, on people, beyond your comprehension sir?

Montalvo (Pithily): I know what I read.

Columbus: And to read is, to you, to believe?

Montalvo: Not in itself no. But when one is confronted by irrefutable proof of wrongdoing I think it sufficient to pass judgement.

Isabella: With respect Senor Montalvo, we are not here today to judge Don Cristobal; merely to offer him a chance for explanation.

Montalvo: Apologies Your Majesty; I misspoke.

Columbus (Continuing to direct his words towards Montalvo): It is men like you: petty, vindictive, intellectual men, who make common cause with one another to bring about the downfall of those more honest in their intentions. I would wager that you and Senor Bobadilla are in league with one another to see my dismissal.

Montalvo (Feigns disinterest): Do not flatter yourself so Don Cristobal; I have little interest in your personal plight.

Columbus: Yet you seek to humiliate me at the highest court!

Montalvo (Frustrated): As I said, I make comment as I see fit in regards to the evidence at hand. Their Majesties have enquired for my services in this case, which means familiarising myself with its contents. The charges against you appear valid to me.

Columbus: So you accuse me of murder then?

Montalvo: I do no such thing. But you lied when you said that execution was not part of your administrative policy.

Columbus (Moving forward): I would never lie in the eyes of the Lord.

Montalvo: Really? May it please Your Majesties that I draw light to evidence that contradicts the admiral’s assertions?

Ferdinand: If you must.

Isabella: As long as it is based on sworn testimony, then it is acceptable to be presented.

Columbus: This is completely unjust!

Isabella (Hand raised): Silence Don Cristobal, your turn shall come again.

Montalvo (Bowing): Much obliged Your Majesties. (Turning to Columbus) I have, as part of this substantial testimonial record, a list of names of those men condemned to suffer the fate of capital punishment. I have proof that five of these perceived villains were executed in the past three months.

Columbus (Voice laced with surprise): That cannot be.

Montalvo: On August 15th Juan de Urminga and Francisco Fernandez were executed by hanging for the crime of thieving.

Columbus (Speaking to nobody in particular): They died of the fever.

Montalvo: On August 31st Pedro de Foronda was executed by hanging for heretical practice.

Columbus: He disappeared.

Montalvo: On September 5th Tristan de San Jorge and Diego de Torpa were executed by hanging and quartered in the town square of Santo Domingo for the murder of one Francisco Henao.

Columbus: Henao was killed by the natives. San Jorge and Torpa also succumbed to the fever.

Montalvo: I have present, copies of their death warrants, signed by members of the Cabildo.

Columbus (Faintly): I did not authorise these supposed punishments.

Montalvo (Scathingly): Your family seal stamps each parchment Don Cristobal. Either your lies have caught up with you, or you are guilty of the grossest incompetence ever witnessed by history.

Ferdinand: Which is it Don Cristobal?

There is silence.

Ferdinand (Standing and walking down the steps to face Columbus. The admiral looks to the ground): You remain eager to pledge your innocence Don Cristobal, citing a range of circumstantial evidence, which requires us to unfailingly trust your integrity. You have given a performance today as fantastic as it is strange. The weight of history bears down upon you Don Cristobal. Only you can decide how its final chapter will read out. Unfortunately, such proceedings as have been presented here cannot function without consistency and honesty. I am no longer convinced in your ability to convey these sentiments. I deem it time for an adjournment. An important lunch appointment awaits me. Do you have anything further to add?

Columbus (Kneeling): As God is my witness, I am innocent of the crimes attributed to me. The evidence has been manipulated to hasten my downfall.

Ferdinand: Your comments are duly noted. Until tomorrow, Don Cristobal.

Ferdinand exits, with Montalvo in tow. Only Isabella and Columbus remain in the hall.

Isabella (After a long pause): Do you pray frequently Don Cristobal?

Columbus: Through all my available hours Your Majesty. Though I fear God has fallen deaf of me.

Isabella (Descending slowly from her throne): What has happened to your faith, Don Cristobal? You were once a man of such conviction. Surely the Indies have not been so cruel to you.

Columbus: It is not the Indies that have been cruel to me Your Majesty. It is my fellow men. These latest slanders are a culmination of the ill-will directed towards me these past years. I know not why. Have I not proved an inspiration to anyone?

Isabella (Standing beside the kneeling Columbus): Your single-mindedness has led to your many accomplishments, of which my realm is a grateful beneficiary. Yet your blinkered pursuit of exotic lands is also your downfall Don Cristobal. When I examine the charges labelled upon you, I do not see a barbaric man lacking compassion. I see a man driven blind by his pursuit of the unattainable; an earthly paradise that you shall never reach, for you shall never be satisfied with what you have discovered. It is both your gift and your curse. It is why I was wrong to appoint you governor.

Columbus (Pleadingly): But Your Majesty I did not commit…

Isabella (Interrupting with raised voice): Only honesty can save you now Don Cristobal! It seems that I have obstructed your true calling by loading you with the burdens of administration. Yet a man cannot escape his crimes, whether he is directly responsible for them or not. The integrity of my realm necessitates just punishment, as you well know. I pray, Don Cristobal, for your own self-preservation, tell the truth! It is the pious thing to do! Do not mock the Lord with your deception!

Columbus (Clasping a wooden crucifix that hangs from his neck): I have never sought to deceive the Lord, Your Majesty. My life’s work has been in pursuit of his eternal blessing.

Isabella: Then, I trust your course is set fair for tomorrow. (Isabella pauses to study Columbus’ appearance intensely)It is difficult to reconcile you with your former self, Don Cristobal. When we first met you were strong of limb and ruddy of cheek, a bastion of masculine virtuosity. Your voice was strong and proud; your demeanour was of a man sainted. I look at you now and I do not see the same man. I see a withered, decrepit sailor, whose self-loathing forbids him to look even his most revered monarch in the eye. A man of timorous voice and shuffling gait; wracked by ailments more typical in those of an older disposition. (She walks passed Columbus towards the edge of stage before turning.)Are you sure you have sought to appease your God, Don Cristobal?

Isabella exits. Columbus remains kneeling.

Columbus (Looking towards heaven): With an intensity unrivalled!

The curtain falls.

Act 4, Scene 1

Scene: The Hall of the Abencerrajes. Isabella and Ferdinand sit behind a shiny brazilwood desk. Seated in a semi-circle in front of them are members of the royal council. Two scribes sit at a smaller table behind the monarchs taking notes.

Isabella: So dear Manuel insists this new land lies within his sphere and that his geographers’ calculations comply with the Treaty of Tordesillas?

Council Member (Standing): Unfortunately so Your Majesty. If their coordinates are to be believed, then Brazil certainly falls within the Portuguese remit.

Ferdinand (Shaking his head): First India, now this Brazil. Do our Portuguese cousins think the latter profitable?

Council Member: Our spies have word that the prospects for wealth are fabulous. Indeed, the desk at which you sit is a product of this land.

Isabella (Smoothing the desk with her hand): It is of fine quality. Where was it procured?

Council Members: French traders Your Majesty. Apparently they intercepted a Portuguese vessel several months ago and relieved her of much cargo.

Ferdinand: So the French have grown alert to maritime adventuring. That is most disappointing. Although…(he too smoothes the desk)their craftsmen are to be admired.

Council Members (Proudly): The craftsmanship is Castilian Your Majesty.

Ferdinand: Even better then!

Isabella: It is clear that we must expand upon our overseas territories. The treaty is little good to us if we are lacking in ambition. Begin assessing potential options. Our exploratory endeavour must be matched by a commitment to planting. You are dismissed.

Isabella waves them away. The royal council members exit, grumbling. The scribes exit afterwards.

Ferdinand (Amusedly): You tire of them quickly Isabella.

Isabella: On the contrary, I deem them astute and reliable. Yet I feel we have reached a juncture where our beloved Don Cristobal must be brought once more into consideration.

At this moment Montalvo enters, carrying several articles of parchment.

Ferdinand: Your timing could not be more apt Montalvo. We were just about to discuss our beloved Don Cristobal. I know you have a keen legal opinion with regards to his predicament.

Montalvo (Slyly): It has been playing on my mind Your Majesty.

Isabella: Before the two of you light his stake, I would take time to remind you of our present subordination to Portugal’s exploratory accomplishments. Don Cristobal, the finest proponent of the art of navigation that has served this realm, could yet play a rebalancing role in respect of our Iberian neighbours.

Ferdinand (Standing and walking slowly in front of the desk, so that he faces Isabella): His past accomplishments, as I have often said, are beyond doubt. However, it is the concern with his more recent history that we must first address before considering his future service to our Kingdom. I have no personal gripe with the man, yet I deem him guilty of these very serious violations of our moral laws. Even overlooking his overzealous persecution of the natives, which is to a degree acceptable, he clearly has no command over his fellow Christians. It does not concern me whether they once lived in poverty. It does not concern me if they have yet to become the rich lords that many of them undoubtedly desire. It does concern me, however, that Don Cristobal and his esteemed brothers appear to be forging some form of family dictatorship, through which they are threatening to supersede the authority of the Crown.  (Animatedly)If the governor of a foreign outpost begins to rule contrary to his sovereigns’ interests, then it is clear that he has become corrupted by power.

Isabella (Defensively): Yet Don Cristobal appears to be genuinely unaware of a significant proportion of the happenings upon Hispaniola. One could determine that from his reaction to the execution revelations.

Ferdinand: In which case he has been misled and manipulated by his deputies – two of which are his siblings may I remind you – whilst he doggedly pursues this mythical passage to the Orient.

Isabella: You do not believe he nears Asia?

Ferdinand: He has been exploring the Western Ocean for eight years; a passage would surely have materialised by now. The world is not so vast!

Isabella: It depends upon whose theory you rely.

Ferdinand (Pithily): Our eminent scholars are rarely ill-informed.

Montalvo (Stepping forward to stand beside Ferdinand): Pardon my intrusion, but there are a number of documents that require your royal signature Your Majesties. Moreover, you have a visitor waiting in the ante-room.

Isabella: A visitor? Who?

Montalvo (Places the documents on the table): A knight by the name of Ovando. He insists that you have been expecting his arrival.

Isabella (Raising his hand): Ah yes! Ovando! I had almost forgotten he was expected.

Ferdinand: You have not before met him Montalvo?

Montalvo: I have not Your Majesty. Indeed, I cannot even say I am familiar with his name. He is a knight then?

Isabella: Certainly; and a fine one at that! He has served us well for many years, both at home and abroad. He is of the order of Alcantara you know?

Montalvo: He is? I see. (Turns to face Ferdinand) So he is one of your disciples then Your Majesty?

Ferdinand (Appears flattered): I would hardly call him a disciple Montalvo. Grand Master of the order I may be, but I can take little credit for the education of knights.

Montalvo: Of course. Shall I show him in?

Isabella: Please do; I long to see him.

Montalvo exits.

Ferdinand (Signing documents): Deza has certainly organised a mountain of these death warrants. I never knew he was such a keen scribe!

Isabella: Behind his theologising he is quite the bureaucrat. (Flicks through the pile of papers): Though I do hope his zeal does not cloud his judgement.

Ferdinand: He has a hard act to follow in Torquemada. I think it unlikely he will succeed in surpassing his predecessor.

Isabella: In what?

Ferdinand (Holding up a parchment laughing): In ordering these!

Isabella: Cardinal Cisneros had a more effective method in tackling the Infidel. The year previous he burnt many of this fine palace’s libraries to the ground, eradicating for eternity some of the more blasphemous treatises of the former occupants.

Ferdinand: Indeed, though his unguarded flames cost us a small fortune in renovation.

Isabella: One cannot put a price on religious prudence.

Montalvo re-enters the room, followed by Ovando. The latter wears a scarlet mantle, adorned with the green cross of Alcantara. He is tall and possesses a heavy black beard.

Montalvo: Your Majesties, I present Nicolas de Ovando, Knight of the Order of Alcantara.

Isabella (Moving from behind the desk to greet Ovando): Dear Nicolas, what a pleasure it is to see you again.

Ovando: (The knight kneels and kisses the queen’s hand): Your Majesty, once again I am honoured to be in your royal presence. (He likewise kneels before Ferdinand, head bowed): My Lord.

Ferdinand (Heartily): Good to see you Ovando. How goes business in Africa?

Ovando: Splendid Your Majesty! We have repelled the Moors from Melilla and garrisoned the surrounding territory from incursion. Our exclave appears safe!

Ferdinand: Splendid indeed! Please, come and sit with us!

Isabella (Instructing her Servant): Fetch us flagons of wine and water. (Returning to her seat behind the desk): So, your work is done in the Sahel?

Ovando (Joining Ferdinand and Montalvo in sitting at the desk): I believe so Your Majesty. In truth, it was a straightforward assignment. Though the Moors number well, they are no match for our weaponry.

Isabella: You sound disappointed the battle was not tougher.

Ovando (Chuckles embarrassedly): A bad habit of an old knight, Your Majesty. Always dreaming of chivalrous encounters!

Isabella (Smiling): You are not so old I think Nicolas. Surely you have service within you still?

Ovando: Until they cover me with earth Your Majesty. Indeed, I hear you are in need of experienced men in the new territories across the sea. Is this rumour true?

The Servant returns with flagons of water and wine. Montalvo pours wine for all.

Ferdinand: It is both true and a matter of some urgency Ovando. Our status as a colonial power has been somewhat imperilled by this lack of experienced subjects.

Isabella (Goblet in hand): You are too dramatic Ferdinand.

Ferdinand: Am I? Try telling that to our Portuguese cousins.

Isabella (Ignoring Ferdinand): Nevertheless Nicolas, men of your talent are always welcomed wherever they go. Tell me, where did you hear of this rumour? I did not believe it was common knowledge.

Ovando: From good Peter Martyr Your Majesty. He was newly arrived in Melilla as I prepared to leave. He seeks peace negotiations with the neighbouring Bedouin tribesmen.

Isabella: Of course! Peter. The man who knows everything! He too has served us with distinction wherever he has gone.

Ferdinand (Examining a document particularly carefully): So you seek a placement in the Indies Ovando?

Ovando: I do My Lord. For what purpose though, you decide.

Isabella (Miffed): Why art thou so keen to emigrate now Nicolas? You have your estates; your vassals; your pension; your family; and yet your aversion to a sedentary life remains.

Ovando (Standing and pacing, goblet in hand): That is precisely the point Your Majesty. I am a man of action! Yet a man who has seen so little action since the days of the Moorish expulsion! Oh, I do not doubt that this is a sign of progress for your peaceful realm. Yet I yearn for conquests; adventure; I am afraid I am not a scholar like the esteemed members of your royal court.

Ferdinand (Puts down his parchment): Then you shall have your position in the Indies, Ovando! How soon can you prepare to leave?

Ovando: Immediately…

Isabella (Interrupting): Is this appointment not made in haste Ferdinand?

Ferdinand: We must act with haste Isabella! (Turning to Ovando): You have heard of the situation regarding Don Cristobal Columbus?

Ovando (Politely): I heard of his arrest, My Lord. On what charges I remain ignorant.

Isabella: And you should remain so for the present, Nicolas. Don Cristobal is currently disputing the charges at this very court.

Ovando (Intrigued): Columbus is here?

Ferdinand: Under lock and key, yes.

Ovando: So his reign as governor is at an end?

Ferdinand: Ye…

Isabella (Raising her voice): That has not yet been decided. Besides, we have an interim in place in Hispaniola.

Ovando: Who may that be, Your Majesty?

Ferdinand (Refilling his own goblet): Francisco de Bobadilla. A fellow knight.

Ovando: Yes I know him well! Of the order of Calatrava! A splendid fellow! It was he who ordered Columbus’ arrest?

Ferdinand: Based on testimonies from the inhabitant Christians, yes. Don Cristobal’s administration has been most unruly. There have been accusations against the man of grievous and brutal actions.

Isabella (Standing between Ferdinand and Ovando): This is the not the audience with which to discuss such charges. I apologise Nicolas, but you must understand that this case remains one of great delicacy.

Ovando (Bowing slightly): But of course Your Majesty.

Isabella: It might be wise to conclude our negotiations in a couple of days, Nicolas. Don Cristobal makes his final defence tomorrow. We shall be in a more suitable position to judge your potential assignment to the Indies then.

Ovando (Draining goblet): Certainly Your Majesty.

Isabella: You are able to stay with us a short time then?

Ovando: I can remain for a few days, yes. Dependent on any appointment I may be privileged with, I have some arrangements to make back at my estate in Leon.

Isabella: I understand. You shall have ample time to see to your domestic affairs. In the meantime, I suggest Senor Montalvo finds you a room. There are so many in this labyrinthine palace!

Ovando: You are too kind, Your Majesty.

Isabella: We shall speak more tomorrow.

Ovando bows and exits with Montalvo. Isabella seats herself behind the desk once more. Ferdinand remains standing.

Ferdinand (Excitedly): Would he not be the ideal replacement to Don Cristobal?

Isabella: And what about Bobadilla?

Ferdinand (Leans forward, his hands on the desk): A fine man, I grant you. But he still has ties to the old regime. I somehow feel an un-blotted parchment is required in Hispaniola.

Isabella: Our administrators deserve more loyalty than that Ferdinand!

Ferdinand: Is that why you procrastinate with Don Cristobal?

Isabella: If that is what you want to term it, then yes! He deserves our attention; and our sympathy! He has been guilty in your mind since you laid eyes on the charge sheet!

Ferdinand (Insistently): He is guilty!

Isabella: Of what we have yet to decide! (She raises a hand to prevent Ferdinand interrupting) Besides, I believe Don Cristobal shall be more accommodating tomorrow.

Ferdinand: He is to confess then?

Isabella: I think it possible. His soul is conflicted, Ferdinand. He shall perform his duty in the eyes of our Lord.

Ferdinand: You know he can never return as governor though?

Isabella: I know it. Yet his service to this realm may yet have life in it.

The Curtain Falls.

Act 4, Scene 2

Scene: Columbus’ cell. The room is identical in appearance to the day before. Columbus and Diego occupy the chairs around the wooden table. Bartolomé perches on the straw mattress in the corner. A single candle burns a bright flame from its holder at the table’s centre.

Diego: So Montalvo was on the offensive?

Columbus (Head resting in his palms): He has clearly swayed the mind of the King.

Diego: And the Queen?

Columbus (Sighs heavily): I fear she too is turning against me. She urged me to confess.

Diego: To what?

Columbus: The charges against me of course.

Diego (Exasperatedly): Were you not more positive in conference this morning? Did you not remind their majesties of your worth to the crown?

Columbus (Clutches his crucifix): I tried Diego, I assure you! I endeavoured to follow your advice. Yet they seemed uninterested in our pursuit of Asia, whence before they had been enthralled. I tell you, Diego, between Bobadilla and Montalvo, their majesties have been swayed.

Diego (Flinging his arms in exasperation): What knowledge of the Indies has Montalvo?

Columbus (Panicky): None! A point I tried to make clear at court! Yet he is seemingly in possession of very damning documents. He even has death warrants with our family seal on them, Diego!

Diego: Surely their majesties understand the need to execute the worst of the native offenders. These were not decisions taken lightly, Cristobal. Yet their malevolent plotting had to be thwarted and an example set!

Columbus: You do not understand! These were warrants for the execution of Christians! They were authorised by me, though I do not remember doing so. (He takes Diego’s hand)Pray tell me Diego, has my illness driven me mad?

There is a long pause.

Bartolomé (Rising to join them at the table): Is it not obvious the conspiracy we have fallen prey to? How difficult a task is the forgery of a seal? Your call for help to Bobadilla has led to your own destruction Cristobal.

Diego: So you had no knowledge of these executions, Bartolomé? You, who was ever-present on Hispaniola during our absences at sea. Orders were carried out in your name during Cristobal’s sojourns.

Bartolomé (Sighs): If that were so, Diego. Order and loyalty are not sentiments those pious soldiers understand; filthy miscreants that they are. Besides, those executions Cristobal reports are fictitious.

Diego: You know not who he speaks of!

Bartolomé: That is of little consequence. No Christians have been put to death on Hispaniola. I tell you, Bobadilla has usurped power by sullying the Columbus name. The mere fact that Montalvo (he spits), that snake, has opted to believe the many malicious falsehoods pointed our way, is unfortunate.

Diego: Why would they privilege Montalvo’s word over Cristobal’s?

Bartolomé: Because Montalvo is a snake. He hisses constantly in the royal ear.

Bartolomé mimics the hissing noise of a snake.

Diego: That is surely not reason enough? Their majesties are not so easily influenced.

Bartolomé (Pacing the cell): Bear in mind, dear brother, that our territorial possessions in the Indies have stagnated. The Portuguese continue to gain land to the south; Indeed, I hear rumour from the guards that our cousins have conquered a vast new frontier of abundant wealth, south of the Torrid Zone. I do not mean to suggest that Montalvo is the puppeteer of their majesties. Nevertheless, his incessant scheming, in tune with the unfavourable political circumstances, is bound to have an effect. Besides Cristobal, you look awful! Your physical appearance hardly imbues the onlooker with feelings of sympathy and trust.

Diego (Standing to confront his brother): Come Bartolomé!

Bartolomé (Shouting): I am merely trying to reason from their majesties’ perspective!

Diego: Out of the three of us, only you know the accuracy of these charges! Yet you continually avoid confronting them!

Bartolomé (Pointing at Diego): I have told you, they are lies! I admit, our treatment of the heathens may have been overly-harsh on occasion, but with good reason! Do you know how hard it is to keep order between two contrary strains of civilisation?

Diego (Shaking Bartolomé): We have muskets, Bartolomé; they have sticks. (He relinquishes his grip on his brother) I think you exaggerate their threat. How necessary can it be to butcher such placid people? I have met the Taino, do not forget that. A less fearsome species of creature you are unlikely to meet.

Bartolomé: So I am to blame for Cristobal’s arrest, is that right?

Diego: You are as culpable as anyone!

Bartolomé: So you put me in league with Bobadilla?

Diego: Not at all, yet your negligence and petty butchery have caused great harm!

Bartolomé: I warn you little brother…

Columbus: (Shouting)Silence!

The room falls quiet

Columbus (His voice now quieter):I pray you, be quiet. Your quarrelsome accusations hurt me more than those of the court.

There is a knock at the door. Deza enters dressed in his cassock.

Columbus (Kneeling at Deza’s feet): Your holiness! What an honour!

Deza: Good evening one and all. (He strides to the table)It pains me to see such men under lock and key. I trust they are treating you respectfully?

Columbus (Tremulously): Very courteously, your holiness.

Deza (Taking Columbus’ vacant seat): I am glad to hear it. How went today’s proceedings?

Bartolomé (Bitterly): Most unfortunately your holiness. Cristobal was subjected to yet more doctored evidence.

Deza removes a ring from his finger and begins to spin it on the table.

Is that so? And their majesties are aware of this?

Columbus (Still kneeling): Pray forgive my brother, your holiness. He speaks with great haste. The evidence presented against me today appeared irrefutable; yet I know not of what they speak. Their majesties have sworn testimony from numerous persons confirming my grave actions.

Deza sits in puzzled silence.

Diego: He has been accused of ordering the execution of Christians, your holiness.

Deza: On what grounds?

Columbus (Beginning to sob): Petty grounds, your holiness. Trifling matters! First, his majesty accused me of imposing poverty on my Christian companions. It was then insinuated that, because of their indentured life under my rule, they took to stealing, for which I punished them in the most grievous manner.

Deza: May I speak with you alone Cristobal?

Columbus: Of course Father. Dear brothers, please let us confer in peace.

Bartolomé: We shall return later Cristobal.

Columbus: I shall send for you if I have the strength for further audience. Adieu for now.

Bartolomé and Diego exit.

Deza: Please be seated Cristobal. Your prostrate figure is too sombre for my weary eyes. It has been a long day in honour of my office.

Columbus seats himself at the table next to Deza. There is a long pause and Columbus hangs his head.

Deza: I prayed for you last night Cristobal. I prayed that God would give you strength to meet your challengers with a steely zeal and composed heart. I fear my prayers were in vain. Tell me; why does the Lord no longer champion your cause? What are you denying him Cristobal?

Columbus (Holds his finger in the candle-flame for a few seconds): This heat I feel.

There is a long pause. Columbus returns his finger to the flame for several moments.

Columbus: This heat I feel. The physical ailments of my withered limbs I feel. My spiritual torment manifests itself in material form. Where once I felt God’s guiding hand, there is now a void. What has become of me?

Deza: Your physical pain is a symptom of your occupation; nothing more. Its exacerbated effects are the result of spiritual weakness. One’s temporal welfare overlaps with one’s spiritual condition, it is true. Yet need that be a cause for concern? The true Christian can alleviate physical suffering through spiritual conviction. You yourself are a fine example of that, Cristobal. Remember when we first met? Your eyes were weak and you fell victim to grievous head-pains. Did that encumber you then?

Columbus does not answer.

Deza (Raised voice): No. It only strengthened your conviction that God was testing you for greater struggles. And you were right! You passed that test of character and achieved greatness! Why now has your demeanour become altogether changed?

Columbus: It is the confusion, your holiness.

Deza: Of what confusion do you speak?

Columbus (Standing wearily and supporting himself with the back of the chair): Here are these charges laid before me, your holiness, with corroborating evidence and testimonies attesting to my guilt. I am a man of reason. Were I in the position of their majesties I would find it hard to dismiss such grounded charges. Yet I know not what they speak of!

Columbus bangs the table with his fist in frustration.

Deza: You are sure you have nothing to repent for? Repentance in itself is not a sin, Cristobal, you know that. It is a necessary process of relieving spiritual burden.

Columbus (Straining): My sins are many; my repentance is frequent. Yet I cannot atone for something I am not responsible for.

Deza: Do you trust your brothers Cristobal?

Columbus: Of course. They are my brothers.

Deza: That is not the answer of a man of reason.

Columbus: You think they have betrayed me?

Deza: Not betrayed you, no. But from what I understand, Cristobal, these charges are laid against your family, rather than you as an individual.

Columbus: My position as governor makes me ultimately responsible.

Deza: Perhaps, but that does not mean you were a colluder in every violation of the law.

Columbus: What do you mean?

Deza: I spoke to some of the royal council today. They are, understandably, well-versed in the details of your case.

Columbus: And what if they are?

Deza: Apparently the complaints levelled against you and your brothers go back further than this Bobadilla and his innumerate witnesses.

Columbus is silent.

Deza: I am informed that several returning colonists during the past few years have spoken ill of your governorship. Before, their majesties were unwilling to believe the grumblings of mere individuals, who had obviously neither the dedication nor the inclination to endeavour in the Indies. A knight of Bobadilla’s reputation is another matter. Some council members now fear that old wounds have become septic. These petty grumblings are now being interpreted as collective dissent against the Columbus rule. They speak of hangings; negligence; the overestimation of wealth; unlawful slavery. I believe you are familiar with these accusations?

Columbus (coughs unhealthily before speaking): I am familiar with them; yet that does not confirm them as accurate. As you say, those settlers that returned did so for a reason. They were unprepared to adapt. So many of the peasants that have accompanied me have expected guidance to Paradise. Yet they remain idle on Hispaniola; expecting wealth to flow towards them. When seeking volunteers for my passage to Asia, they keep their arms planted by their sides. What are their expectations?

Deza (Dubiously): You have not been wild in your promises Cristobal?

Columbus: Not without necessity. My original impressions were somewhat tempered by false intelligence. I have never personally promised a man that he will become rich.

Deza: Your brothers likewise?

Columbus: Diego has always been at my side. Without his guidance, I would have abandoned all hope of finding the lands I cherish. Yet his perseverance has led me to greater findings; ones their majesties should justly be proud of.

Deza: And Bartolomé?

There is a pause. Columbus takes his seat and pulls agitatedly at his nails before looking up.

Columbus: Bartolomé is a good man, though his heart guides him too often. (He pauses) I have heard rumours against him.

Deza: Do they match…

Columbus (Interrupting): All unsubstantiated I should add. Though he is my brother I did not ignore the calls for an investigation.

Deza: Into…

Columbus: Nothing was found to uphold their claims.

Deza: Whose claims?

Columbus (Seating himself and staring at Deza): Will you speak for me tomorrow Father?

Deza: I cannot do it Cristobal. My office does not permit political interference, you know that. Besides, my presence may only make your defence look more futile.

Columbus: How so?

Deza: It could be deemed that you were using my office as a tool of political pressure, especially when one considers our past acquaintance.

Columbus (Pleading, hands clasped): Please Father! I beg of you! Seek reason from them! Make enquiries! You need not lobby for me; simply ask for some perspective!

Deza (Apologetically): I cannot be present with you at court Cristobal. I have other matters of importance that cannot wait.

Columbus: Your holiness…

Deza (Hand raised for silence): If your plight remains cold after tomorrow’s sitting I shall seek an audience with their majesties.

Columbus (Falling to kneel at Deza’s feet): Oh thank you Father!

Deza (He waits for Columbus to take his seat): Please sit Cristobal! You must understand that I will not seek to change their majesties decision, whatever that proves to be. I shall reason with them to a suitable extent, and if they feel compelled to alter their judicial course, then that is their choice. If not, I shall refrain from argument.

Columbus: That is only fair Your Holiness.

Deza: For what crimes do you stand accused tomorrow? There can be very few left to choose from.

Columbus (Bows his head in shame): For the failure to convert a sufficient number of the natives to our holy Christian church.

Deza: And of this charge you deem yourself guilty?

Columbus: To an extent, yes. You see, my absences have made it difficult to implement an efficient system of evangelisation. Conversions are sporadic, inconsistent and often temporary. The continuing idolatry amongst a contingent of the natives, even after baptism, has provoked no inconsiderable anger on our part.

Deza: You may find this strange coming from me Cristobal, but conversion is often the wrong way forward.

Columbus (Stunned): You think so, Father?

Deza (Standing and circling the table. Columbus watches transfixed): It is all very well forcibly converting the heathens on mass, Cristobal. Alas, once one’s back is turned, their false idols hold centre stage once more. The conversos are proof of that. Sure, the threat of punishment can help the heathens maintain a Christian facade. But one never truly knows. The one thing that can never be allowed to happen is for Christianity, our Christian belief system, to be subordinated to another religion. Public idols must be disposed of, open prayer to false gods ruthlessly quashed, and any form of Christian persecution be made punishable by death. At the same time, we must be realistic. Cultures develop separately over centuries; they are deeply imbued with tradition and habit. Breaking such custom readily is a hard task, maybe even an impossible one. Some covert idolatry must be tolerated, if not condoned.

Columbus: You cannot seriously mean that, Your Holiness!

Deza (Passionately): You have mentioned yourself, Cristobal, the difficulties of converting an alien people to our civilised religion. One cannot expect immediate results. By removing idolatry from societal prominence, confining it to the individual home, we have made provisions for a safer future. Only through regular exposure to the benefits of Christianity will heathen peoples finally turn their backs on their irregular practices.

Columbus: So you are opposed to punishment?

Deza: As I said, those publicly non-conforming should be dealt with in the strictest manner possible. Their actions can only poison the proselytising well. My point, Cristobal, is that one should judge the success of conversion not by numbers, but by the degree to which the subjects in question have removed themselves from their sinful idolatry. You have brought back natives of the Indies before, have you not?

Columbus: Indeed; on my two voyages previous to this one of incarceration.

Deza: By all accounts they conducted their Christian duties with great piety.

Columbus (Agreeably): They were exemplary converts.

Deza (Spinning and drawing close to Columbus): Precisely! The quality of conversion is what the Inquisition now gives precedent to, whatever our outward image may suggest. You must remind their majesties of the distinction between quality and quantity.

Columbus: Thank you, Your Holiness. That I shall do.

Deza (Wiping his brow with a silken handkerchief): Very good. Now, I must take my departure. Rest easily Cristobal, you look tired. I shall pray for you as always.

Deza exits.

Columbus: Goodnight Father. (He rises to his feet and faces the audience) Tomorrow shall be my day of reckoning. The call of the Orient grows fainter with each passing moment. (Raises his head to the heavens)Oh how I wish I had been more astute! How I wish I had been more aware! You punish me for my carelessness Lord!

There is a pause

Columbus: Have I not proved my devotion? Give me the strength I require! (He paces, speaking quietly) Time wanes; my stay on this earth threatens to end. Can there be such a morbid footnote to my legacy? Do I have a legacy? What of my son? Will he pay for the charges thrown against me? (Voice grows louder) I must voyage again! Whatever they charge me with; I shall not be denied my destiny! (He kneels and looks skyward)Once more Lord, I place my faith within your hands.

The curtain falls.

Act 4, Scene 3

Scene: The cell shared by Bartolomé and Diego. It is a small, cramped room, which is darkly lit. Two straw beds stand adjacent to one another. There are no chairs; only a small side-table, atop which stands a single candle, which is burning close to its wick. The two brothers are on their respective beds. Diego sits, whilst Bartolomé lies, his headed shrouded by the shadows.

Diego: Listen Bartolomé! (There are sounds of footsteps) Deza must have left our brother. Shall we make inquiry as to the purpose of his visit?

Bartolomé (Yawns): Can it not wait till the sun rises, Diego? I am insufferably weary.

Diego: How so? We have done little but pace this puny cell for the past three days.

Bartolomé: The less one does, the more apathetic one becomes. I simply want to rest in contentment.

Diego: You seem remarkably unconcerned by Cristobal’s plight; your own culpability obviously raises no guilty emotions.

Bartolomé (Spitefully): Do not test my patience with your petty accusations, dear brother.

Diego: We both know my accusations are far from petty. We both know that it is you who should be standing in refutation at their majesties’ court, not Cristobal.

Bartolomé: So, you are a man of authority are you Diego? Tell me, brother, from whence does this prized knowledge derive?

Diego (Laughs): I may have shared Cristobal’s absences from Hispaniola, but that does not make me ignorant of the happenings on that fateful island. My hearing is not of that of our dear brother. The soldiers talked of brutalities, Bartolomé, often with an unnatural pride.

Bartolomé (Sits up into the light): Not once did I encourage such brutalities, Diego.

Diego: That is of little consequence. You allowed them to happen, whether tacitly or not only you know.

Bartolomé: You judge me a criminal?

Diego: I leave judgements of my fellow men to the Lord. Nonetheless, your calculated silence afflicts Cristobal.

Bartolomé: He has become weak…

Diego (Speaks over Bartolomé): Moreover! Moreover, it hinders our family legacy. You say yourself that our brother is weak. He is; one need only look at him to decipher that. His time amongst us mortals is terminating with shocking rapidity. He shall soon die, Bartolomé! What then of our legacy? What shall become of our noble lands, our glorious titles, our royal patronage, if Cristobal succumbs to these charges?

There is a pause.

Bartolomé (Curiously): What do you suggest?

Diego (Pleadingly): Confess, Bartolomé! Alleviate the blame from Cristobal’s shoulders! Your sacrifice shall be recompensed with eternal satisfaction!

There is another pause. After some time, Bartolomé stands.

Bartolomé: Such a confession would draw a heavy punishment.

Diego: You need not take sole liability, Bartolomé! Do what Cristobal should long ago have done: blame the settlers! You need only plead guilty of negligence; a negligence that you alone cannot account for. These colonists of ours proved such a great burden to administer in a foreign land; they refused your command; they acted of themselves and for themselves; they plundered, pillaged, robbed and murdered! How could you keep control over such monsters? Appease their majesties. Bobadilla is an astute man, who was asked to pass judgement from an unfavourable first impression. How was he to know that the Columbus name had been sullied by the villainy of the common soldier?

Bartolomé (Shaking with rage): Bobadilla is a snake, Diego! He took fancy to Hispaniola and desired it for himself! Does your intelligence not recount this important detail?

Diego: I am fully aware of Senor Bobadilla’s true nature. But Cristobal has dug himself a hole from which he cannot clamber out. There is to be no happy resolution through the given channels!

Bartolomé: Then why must I confess, if all is lost?

Diego: All is not lost. A perfect conclusion to the refutation may be beyond us; however, a satisfactory one is not! Appeasement is the way forward. And who must we appease?

Bartolomé: Their majesties. Do not patronise me Diego.

Diego: I apologise, but your short-sightedness can be quite alarming! Which two men do their majesties have the greatest respect for in this case?

Bartolomé (Sighs): Bobadilla and Montalvo, those twisted serpents!

Diego: Bobadilla is one, I grant you. Montalvo, on the other hand, is merely their legal expert. He has no authority on matters of the Indies. The other man to whom I refer is Cristobal!

Bartolomé (Exhales doubtfully): Cristobal? He is devalued in the eyes of their majesties!

Diego: Only because of his supposed culpability in relation to these charges. Were you to blame, however…

There is another lengthy pause. Bartolomé re-seats himself opposite Diego.

Bartolomé: They would remember his true worth. (Pause)I must take the fall for the greater good.

Diego: It would offer you redemption, brother.

Bartolomé stands once more and paces the narrow room, Diego watching his every move.

Bartolomé: But is there time for such a revelation?

Diego: Perhaps; we must speak to Cristobal at once. Guard!

There is a jangling of keys and a lock turns. A Guard enters.

Guard: What’s the problem here?

Diego: We would like to see our brother in the neighbouring cell.

Guard (Defiantly): It cannot be done. The admiral sleeps.

Bartolomé (Standing face to face with the Guard): Then wake him sir! This is no time for irrelevant foibles.

Guard (Pushing Bartolomé gently with his hand): The admiral does not wish to be disturbed. You would do well to follow his example.

The Guard exits.

Bartolomé: What a distasteful character. That man would not be out of place in our Indies.

Diego: Indeed; yet Cristobal’s orders were obviously clear. He must be resolved in his action for tomorrow.

Bartolomé: I pray he does not confess to the charges willingly.

Diego: There is no telling what the man will do in his current state.

Bartolomé (Collapses on his bed): So my chance at redemption goes amiss! Our legacy and our gold sliver through our grasp!

Diego (Moves hastily to Bartolomé’s bedside): Is this gold a figure of speech? Or do you speak forthrightly Bartolomé?

Bartolomé (He gives an anguished moan): Oh, what does it matter? My weakness has ruined all! I prayed to Cristobal to let me remain on Terra Firma; he knew how I hated the life at sea! I am not like you and him Diego; I wanted to assert myself on dry land! He gave me the position of Adelantado against his better judgement; I became a victim of the power I yielded!

Diego (Kneeling at Bartolomé’s bedside): You overstate your weakness, Bartolomé. Yet speak more of this gold! To what do you refer?

Bartolomé (In a muffled voice): Our gold…

Diego: Pray speak clearly, Bartolomé!

Bartolomé (Slowly): Our gold has been hoarded by Bobadilla. Do you hear me now?

Diego: Perfectly! Yet, of what gold do you speak? Your riddles get tedious, Bartolomé!

Bartolomé (Sits up): The Columbus gold; our governing stipend!

Diego: Has that not been confiscated?

Bartolomé: Not by their majesties, no! Even they cannot find fault with the legitimacy of our gold! But Bobadilla has usurped it for himself!

Diego: Why was I not made aware of this?

Bartolomé: It seemed of little consequence, initially. I never thought these charges would hold such sway at court. One audience with their majesties and Cristobal would resolve the misunderstanding; that was how I saw it. We would be returned to our land and gold, and I would resume my place as acting head of the Indies, whilst you sought Asia’s wonders.

Diego: Does Cristobal know?

Bartolomé: Perhaps. Yet it was never his primary concern…the gold that is.

Diego: That does not mean he would want it lost!

Bartolomé (Sarcastically): Hah! He would no doubt think its theft an act of divine retribution! From our royal salary and our Indian estates, which were more profitable than most, we had a tidy sum of ducats saved. I estimate more than thirty-thousand gold coins! Now that is gone with the rest!

Diego (Standing): Not necessarily, brother. Their majesties would stand opposed to Bobadilla’s thieving. They have not yet made mention of returning our gold; which suggests they know not of it. No! This offers us chance to sully the name of that conniving swine, as he has done ours! If only you had mentioned this earlier, Bartolomé! Thirty-thousand ducats is a not indecisive political bargaining tool!

Bartolomé: It seems I can do no right in this sorry affair.

Diego (Aside): Apparently not.

Bartolomé: We must see Cristobal at dawn!

Diego: Indeed. If that fails, then Deza is our only hope; he is our only remaining ally. What he has already promised Cristobal, I cannot guess. Fancy him asking us to vacate the room!

Bartolomé: I see little point us even being here, as preferable as this palace is to that dungeon in Cadiz.

Diego: Do not allow yourself to get too comfortable, brother. We may find ourselves reacquainted with that jail in the present.

Bartolomé: The Lord punishes the weak, Diego.

Diego: And ignores the sinners, Bartolomé. Now, we must rest.

The Curtain Falls.

Act 5, Scene 1

Scene: It is just past dawn the following morning.

In the Hall of the Ambassadors: Ferdinand and Isabella are seated at their thrones. Burning torches, standing next to the colonnades, provide extra lighting to the darkened hall. The shadows of the inhabitants are cascaded onto the walls behind them.

Ferdinand: Let us conclude this business swiftly, Isabella. We have the Portuguese ambassador dining with us at midday. Besides, I am keen to move on from this opulent palace.

Isabella: Why so?

Ferdinand: Its Muslim splendour disconcerts me. I think we ought to find an alternative venue for future courts in this challenging city.

Isabella: It is custom for the conquerors to assume the domains of the conquered. To do otherwise would prove a sign of weakness.

Ferdinand: Our weakness stems from our failure to flush out the infidels; I hear continuing reports of conversos reneging on their baptismal promises. We must speak to Deza; I fear he has been avoiding us.

Isabella: Deza can wait; we must resolve our little Indian problem first. Don Cristobal is sure to provide greater assistance today.

Ferdinand (Uncertainly): I do hope so; what has happened to that man? He is nothing like the one I remember, who sought to impress us at this very court all those years ago. Even on his last visit he had more vigour about him.

Isabella: He displays the signs of a man wracked with guilt; his spiritual burden is heavy.

Ferdinand: Pray hope he releases it today, then. (Pause) We must also speak to Ovando! I want him in the Indies, come what may!

Isabella: A valuable servant, I agree. What position to give him, though?

Ferdinand (Thoughtfully scratches his chin): Yes, he cannot be made governor, of course; but Ovando likes to be nobody’s subordinate. It could lead to ruptures.

Isabella: Of which we have had sufficient in those lands!

A Messenger enters.

Messenger: Your majesties, I come bearing a request.

Ferdinand: Pray tell it to us!

Messenger: The Admiral’s brothers wish to speak to him immediately.

Ferdinand: Impossible! He has had time enough for personal conferences!

Isabella (To Ferdinand): What harm can a short meeting permit?

Ferdinand: Harm enough. We have been lenient with them, Isabella. Their terms of imprisonment could have been far harsher. They eat well; sleep comfortably; have relative freedom of movement. What more should we give them? You speak of weakness; look at the charity with which we treat our captives!

Isabella (Frustrated): They are no ordinary prisoners Ferdinand. Though why they did not speak together last night I do not know.

Ferdinand: Precisely. (To the Messenger) The request is denied. Fetch Don Cristobal.

The Messenger moves to the exit.

Ferdinand (Shouts): And find Senor Montalvo!

Isabella: Do our overseas possessions worry you Ferdinand?

Ferdinand: In what way?

Isabella: In any way.

There is a pause. Ferdinand sighs deeply before airing his thoughts.

Ferdinand: When we discovered the new lands across the Atlantic Sea I thought our accomplishments would be limitless. For a time, this theory was borne out. Yet, we have not expanded upon our possessions.

Isabella: Don Cristobal has discovered many other new territories; there are maps to prove it.

Ferdinand (Takes to his feet, descending from the throne to the bottom of the stairs. He faces the audience): And I do not doubt that he has; but we do not occupy these mystery domains! The islands we possess seem to constrain the possibilities for a colonial kingdom. We are constantly promised that the continents of Asia shall soon be accessible via a western route; yet what good is that? We have not the resources to send armies into these well-founded lands. The pages of Marco’s travels are well-worn. These are not barbaric states, as our subjects have encountered in the Indies!

Isabella: Though they are heathen states.

Ferdinand (Turns to Isabella): Of course, but they are sophisticated heathens! They have wondrous palaces; great armies; eminent scholars; they are not so dissimilar to us. If the Portuguese have truly found such a colossal land to the south of Hispaniola, then I truly am worried.

Isabella: Surely you do not think they would attack our possessions? What about Tordesillas?

Ferdinand: They will certainly not attack at present; they have neither the resources nor the manpower. Yet, that is the point of owning colonies, is it not? To acquire men and resources! Men and resources we cannot spare from our own Christian realm! If the Portuguese show the poise and administration I fear they are capable of, I dare not think of the empire they might raise!

Isabella (Defiantly): This is why we must preserve our foremost explorers!

Ferdinand: Within reason…

The entrance of the Messenger, flanked by Columbus and Montalvo interrupts the monarchs’ dialogue.

Messenger: Your gracious majesties, I present Senor Alfonso Diaz de Montalvo.

Montalvo strides arrogantly forward, before the conclusion of his introduction. He gives a half-hearted bow to the monarchs before taking a stand by their side.

Messenger (Clearly flustered, stutters) Uh…I also present, Don Cristobal Columbus, Admiral of the Ocean Sea.

Ferdinand (Aside to Isabella): A more astute introduction than before.

Columbus hobbles forward and kneels at the steps leading to the thrones. Ferdinand returns to his seat.

Columbus (Kneeling): Your gracious majesties.

Isabella: Welcome, Don Cristobal. I pray you are possessed of sounder mind for our final session.

Columbus (Compliantly): I shall endeavour to be both honest and lucid your majesty.

Isabella: Excellent.

Ferdinand (Impatiently): Let us begin then. Montalvo, what is the final charge?

Montalvo (Steps forward): The final grand charge, of which there are several sub-charges, is that Don Cristobal’s administration has failed to convert a sufficient number of the native Taino people to our glorious Christian religion. In this respect, he knowingly disregarded his moral duty to enforce religious conversion, preferring instead to enslave large numbers of the indigene for transport to other territories.

Ferdinand: How say you to this charge, Don Cristobal?

Columbus (Standing): I plead not guilty, your majesties.

Isabella and Ferdinand exchange glances.

Isabella: Need I remind you of our conversation from last eve, Don Cristobal?

Columbus (Wavering in voice): I cannot…confess to that which is not a crime, your majesties.

Ferdinand: Your promised lucidity evades you, Don Cristobal. Dost thou not deem the charge at hand as constituting a crime?

Columbus: Yes, your majesty.

Ferdinand: Perhaps our chief jurist can enlighten me as to the particulars then?

Montalvo (Smiling sinisterly): It would be my pleasure, your majesty. According to our statutes, it is a punishable offence to neglect the evangelisation of heathen peoples living within Spanish domains. It is also a crime, and has been for no inconsiderable length of time, to enslave a fellow man without express permission from the monarchs of the realm.

Ferdinand (Also smiles): Your knowledge of our legal provisions apparently does not match your navigational expertise, Don Cristobal.

Columbus (Trembling): With all respect, your majesties, our law, civilised as it is, cannot be used to govern a state that is semi-barbaric. Mitigating circumstances mean the law must be interpreted in a particular way, in relation to the conditions at hand.

Ferdinand (Laughs): Is that your refutation for all your charges? The law should be interpreted in a particular way. In other words, you should decide the law under your governorship?

Columbus: Your majesty, I am fully aware of our Christian law; indeed I support it unconditionally. Great efforts have been made to Christianise the Taino. In many cases, we have succeeded. Dost thou not remember the specimens I brought back from previous voyages? Were they not of bronzed skin, they would have been mistaken for Spaniards!

Ferdinand: You compare our subjects to these barbarians, as you call them?

Columbus (Frustration in his voice): They are not all barbarians, your majesty! Many have been Europeanised! They are your subjects! Yet to expect universal conversion is lunacy!

Ferdinand (Rising from his chair): So I am a lunatic now!

Isabella (Places her hand on Ferdinand’s forearm): Pray calm yourself, Ferdinand. Your passionate interruptions are not helping matters.

Ferdinand: So he is fine to call me a madman?

Isabella (Arms outstretched): They were not his words. Continue, Don Cristobal, but be careful what you insinuate.

Columbus (Bows): Many thanks, your majesty. As I have said, many Taino were converted with ease and have since lived a life of Christian piety. Yet, unfortunately, the same cannot be said for all. Some of them have continued to persist with their heathen idolatry. Whilst we have forbidden non-Christian worship in public, and ruthlessly destroyed false idols, what a man does behind closed doors is difficult to influence. Certainly, heathen practices continue in the homes of many Taino; they do not understand that their spiritual delusions cannot exist harmoniously with their new Christian religion. Time is what is required, your majesties.

Ferdinand (Unsympathetically): You have had time enough.

Columbus (Dolefully): Eight years is no time! For a whole civilisation to be reformed requires generations. We are only sowing the seeds. Besides, whilst so many of our pious colonists conduct themselves in a consistently immoral manner, how can we expect the unknowing heathens to behave any different?

Ferdinand: You seem keen to place the blame at the feet of the ordinary soldier, Don Cristobal. Remember, a man is only as good as his leader.

Columbus: And I will admit that I have had my faults as a governor. My attentiveness has often been lacking, and I have been for too long absent from Hispaniola. I readily confess to these shortcomings. Yet to say I ignored conversion is not only false, but immeasurably hurtful. You know only too well, your majesties, of my investment of faith in the Christian creed.

Isabella: It is true that you have never forgotten our Lord, Don Cristobal. But what of the slaves? For the past two days you have bemoaned the depopulation of the island; the villainies of individual Christians in diminishing the Taino numbers. How, then, can you justify the eviction of so many potential labourers from our underdeveloped colony?

Columbus: Those who contrived to preserve the heathen religion, your majesties, those who were repeatedly in violation of the ban on public idolatry; it was they who were enslaved. On my previous return to Spain, I could not help overhearing your labour woes in the Canaries. My brother made contact with a trader; he was most grateful for the added manpower.

Ferdinand: We were, of course, aware that Indians were present on some of our African islands. I was willing to overlook this casual slave trade, believing it not to be the work of a colonial governor! (His voice rises in volume)Had I known that these men were unchristian; that they were part of a scheme of greed founded between you and your brothers, I would have acted sooner!

Columbus: The money derived from our slaving business was not for personal profit, your majesties. Surely you do not think me so reckless?

Isabella: Of course not, Don Cristobal. To where did the proceeds go?

Columbus: Into the treasury at Santo Domingo, your majesty. The slaves provided the colony with much needed finance to its coffers, from which you yourselves receive the royal fifth.

Ferdinand: We did not ask to profit by slaving, Don Cristobal. I grant you, I am not wholly opposed to the idea. Yet, your deliberate effort to act independently only furthers the impression that you are deceptive and manipulative, throwing doubt upon the details invoked in your refutation!

Isabella: I must concur, Don Cristobal. Why did you not approach us with your slaving plan? You mention it not in any of your letters.

Columbus (Head bowed): I was ashamed to, your majesty. The necessity of enslavement was only conjured by a chronic imbalance in the colonial budget. You see, as I once alluded to, the promised mines of gold, painted in our minds by native trickery, have not materialised. Some placer exists, of course, but its veins run shallow. The Seven Cities have yet to be discovered. Of their existence, I am now not wholly persuaded.

Ferdinand (Cynically): So selling slaves compensated for the absence of gold?

Columbus: In effect, your majesty. I confess I was overzealous in promising abundant riches.

Ferdinand: A mistake that prefaces many of your charges.

Columbus stands silent.

Isabella: That at least alleviates one concern.

Ferdinand: What is that?

Isabella: We feared that the decreasing remit of gold returning from your fair isle to the royal treasury, Don Cristobal, was a sign of sinister plotting. There had been whispers of hoarding amongst the returning colonists.

Columbus (Looks up at the Queen): You do not think I hoarded gold, your majesty?

Isabella: It appears less likely, now you have accounted for its dearth.

Montalvo (Scoffs): If what he says is true!

Columbus (Marching towards Montalvo): Silence you vile wretch!

Isabella (Clearly displeased): Senor Montalvo, such provocation is wholly unnecessary. Don Cristobal is unlikely to implicate himself in a slaving operation as a cover for thieving gold. You are the jurist; you know the penalty the crime of unlawful slaving carries.

Montalvo (Grinning): Too true, your majesty. Yet, Don Cristobal may answer me one question, for, as he so rightly argues, I am ignorant in such matters.

Ferdinand (His impatience growing): Get on with it then!

Montalvo: What are these Seven Cities you mention, Don Cristobal?

Columbus, flustered by Montalvo’s outburst, takes a few paces back and composes himself before speaking.

Columbus (Gripping the crucifix around his neck): A fellow mariner once regaled me, long ago, with the story of the Seven Cities of Gold. According to this man, a Portuguese, who was most humble and honest, the legend was quite true…

He pauses and looks up at the monarchs.

Ferdinand (Intrigued): Pray continue.

Columbus: The man told me that at the time of the Moorish conquest of the Peninsula, some eight centuries past, seven Portuguese bishops took to sea in order to avoid the infidels and their lust for Christian blood. Stricken in their ship, lost amidst the gales of the Western Ocean, they espied an island; its name is purported to have been Antillia. Once cast ashore on this island, each bishop founded his own city, for it was a large island. For hundreds of years, nothing was heard of these brave servants of God. Yet, only a few decades before the present, the Portuguese mariner of whom I speak was voyaging towards the Cape Verdes, when his ship was blown off course. This was a time when Don Henrique pioneered the Portuguese discoveries, and the sailors endeavoured to return to him. The wind being contrary, they drifted further west, until they saw a shoreline through the Ocean mist. Moving closer, the sailors heard voices; Portuguese voices! They had found Antillia. Alas, the men, driven mad by thirst, believed the voices to be a trick of the mind. As the wind turned in their favour, they quickly hurried back from whence they came, ignoring the salutations of the islanders. On returning, they discovered the most marvellous thing; thick pieces of gold buried in the sand they had taken from the island’s edge for their firebox! The mariner with whom I conversed deemed it a coincidence and thought nothing further of it. It was only when he met a man who claimed to have been to Antillia, and confirmed the presence of the gold, located amidst Seven Glorious Cities, that he realised the opportunity he had missed. He soon organised another expedition; but alas, he could not find that blessed isle, for no accurate readings of its location had been plotted at the time.

Ferdinand: And you believed you might find it?

Columbus: I did not, your majesty. Without any clue as to its location amidst that mass of blue, I ignored the legend, tempting as it was. Yet, my intrigue was soon aroused during my first audiences with the Taino!

Ferdinand (Leans forward in his throne): The heathens knew of these Seven Cities of Gold?

Columbus: That is what they claimed, your majesty. My brother made enquiries into the myth on a whim. The natives confirmed it was true; some even said they had been to the island of the Seven Cities for trade.

Ferdinand (Excitedly): And where did they locate it?

Columbus: Even further west than we had already come. For years I have searched the multitude of islets to the west of Hispaniola; never have I found the land of the Seven Cities. It became evident that some of the natives were merely tricking us, as they had done all along. By impressing upon us the closeness of this legendary realm, no doubt sensing its importance to us, they hoped to distract us from their villainous schemes. The attacks on our land and persons; the thieving of our hard-earned produce; and the desecration of our Christian symbols took place in my absence!

Ferdinand: But you still believe in the existence of the Seven Cities, Don Cristobal?

Columbus: I have never before doubted in their existence; the Portuguese mariner with whom I spoke was of great repute. As for its true location, I remain more ignorant than ever, thanks to our Taino betrayers.

Ferdinand (To Isabella): We must endeavour to find this rich land.

Isabella (To Ferdinand): As we have persisted with finding the Orient? (To Columbus) I still fail to see a convincing argument for your enslavement of the natives, Don Cristobal. One can never endeavour enough to impress our Christian faith upon the non-believers.

Columbus: But your majesty, those enslaved were actively countering our Christian proselytising. It was more than their refusal to convert that forced me into such desperate measures; they sought to destroy what we were building!

Isabella (Disappointedly): Alas, Don Cristobal, you seek to deceive me further! It seems clear to me your motive for enslavement was monetary, with religious dissidence a faint consideration.

Columbus: Your majesty, I pray you not to think this way! Our Christian faith lives at the forefront of my mind; this you know!

Isabella: Please do not pretend to understand what I know, Don Cristobal. I think, perhaps, it would have been wiser to implement a stronger inquisitorial presence in these lands. Maybe that way, Christianity would be given its rightful place of prominence!

Ferdinand (To Isabella): The Inquisition can be hard to control once unleashed, Isabella. We have trouble enough with them here in Spain. In the Indies, there power would soon become immeasurable.

Isabella (To the room): The Inquisition has served this realm efficiently, with unbounded loyalty, for twenty years. We should encourage the dispersion of their guiding benevolence.

Columbus: Your majesty, I too share your sentiments about the Inquisition. Yet the Grand Inquisitor himself understands the complexities of conversion; he recognises the need to allow time for religious assimilation.

Isabella (Raises her voice): Pray use the name of the Grand Inquisitor wisely, Don Cristobal! You speak of a man closer to God than any of us! To suggest that he would allow heathens time to adapt to our most noble religion is preposterous!

Columbus (Crying): But I spoke to him only yesterday…

Isabella (Interrupting): You disappoint me Don Cristobal! (Her voice softens) I had hoped our own conference would have been sufficient to persuade you of your honour. Yet your dishonesties continue to mount; have you no shame?

Columbus remains silent, and fails to hold the gaze of his monarch.

Isabella: It appears power has corrupted you; you are now nobody’s servant but your own. The inconsistency of your testimony, and base disregard of our religious necessities, leave me in little doubt as to your guilt. I would like you to take leave of us now, so that we may pass a sentence appropriate for your sins.

Columbus: Your majesty, I beg of you…

Ferdinand (Shouts): Silence, Cristobal! Your Queen has given you instruction; dare you neglect it once more?

Columbus ceases talking, yet continues to whimper on his knees.

Ferdinand: Your grovelling cannot save you from the justice that awaits you. Senor Montalvo!

Montalvo (Steps from beside the thrones to stand beside the cowering Columbus): Yes, your majesty.

Ferdinand: Escort this man to his cell. Make it known to the guard that he is to be seen by no one until we call for his return.

Montalvo: Very good, your majesty.

Montalvo waits for Columbus to stumble to his feet, before they exit side-by-side.

Ferdinand (Standing): You have grown tired of the Admiral, your majesty?

Isabella: One can only preserve faith in a man for so long, Ferdinand. His falsehoods cause more damage than his incompetence.

Ferdinand: Quite…

There is a pause.

Ferdinand: Yet, I must confess, I am intrigued by these Seven Cities of Gold. What a marvel it would be were we to find them!

Isabella (Disbelieving): You believe Don Cristobal’s tale? Your trust in him had all but vanished yesterday; now you are willing to give credit to this hearsay!

Ferdinand: It would be unwise to neglect it altogether! Myth or no, an opportunity presents itself.

Isabella: But this island of gold is Portuguese is it not?

Ferdinand: Only its inhabitants. It is a possession of no one.

There is another pause.

Isabella: Would it not be more prudent to consider matters over which we have some influence?

Ferdinand: I am merely suggesting we consider seeking this paradise! Remember our weakening position with regards to our neighbours.

Isabella (Gives a pithy laugh): You are not suggesting we stand weaker than our Portuguese cousins, Ferdinand?

Ferdinand: Not domestically. But that could change given their expanding overseas colonies. We have to accumulate more territory!

Isabella (Impatiently): We must resolve the issues facing our current territory first! Forget these mythological ravings; what evidence have we but the promises of a delusional sailor?

Ferdinand: Yet his story has some credence! Many bishops are known to have fled the Peninsula during those dark days; why should not some of them have ventured west into the Great Ocean?

Isabella: We are talking at cross-purposes, Ferdinand. Pray, let us resolve our affair with Don Cristobal before confronting more speculative ventures.

Ferdinand (Leans close to Isabella): But the two are linked! Don Cristobal, hopeless governor that he may be, is the ultimate navigator. If a man is to find the Seven Cities, it will be him! Let us not be too hasty in passing firm judgement against him.

Isabella (Stands from the throne and moves away from Ferdinand): Before today you would have the Admiral in chains; now you seek to exonerate him!

Ferdinand (Flails his arms in exasperation): I seek no exoneration! Don Cristobal must pay for his crimes; that is beyond dispute. Yet why waste a man of talent?

Isabella: Besides his disobedience? His dishonour? His spiritual weakness? Are they not reasons enough?

Ferdinand (Sighs heavily and stands close behind Isabella): I thought Don Cristobal a favourite of yours?

Isabella (Strides away from Ferdinand again): Which is why my disappointment in his actions is compounded! We gave him everything, Ferdinand. And how did he repay us? (She speaks softly) With betrayal.

There is a lengthy pause. Ferdinand wonders slowly back to his throne and seats himself. He rests his chin in the palm of his left hand.

Ferdinand (Sullenly): What do you propose then?

Isabella returns to her seat beside Ferdinand. As she walks, a beam of light from the portico illuminates her path, causing both monarchs to raise their eyes towards the heavens.

Isabella: Don Cristobal shall be formally removed from his office of governor.

Ferdinand: Agreed.

Isabella: He shall be stripped of all titles pertaining to nobility and eminence.

Ferdinand: Agreed.

Isabella: He and his brothers shall be forbidden from setting foot in Our Spanish Indies again.

Ferdinand (Pauses momentarily before nodding): Agreed.

Isabella: In lieu of his exploratory accomplishments on behalf of this realm, he shall be excused further imprisonment.

Ferdinand: Agreed. His brothers also?

Isabella: Yes; he would have it no other way. (She pauses for several seconds, deep in thought) He shall be required to leave this sovereign realm and never return.

Ferdinand (Raises his head from his hand): And what of the Seven Cities? Who better to send in pursuit of this wondrous haven than a repentant mariner?

Isabella (Dismissively): I have no wish to retain association with Cristobal Columbus. As for these Seven Cities, they are a fabrication; if a route to the Orient was unattainable, then embarking on such a foolish enterprise as this would undoubtedly fail!

Ferdinand: Is it not worthy of some little more consideration? Let me enquire into our finances with the Council members.

Isabella: You know as well as me that we have little money with which to gamble! Our creditors become increasingly irate by the day; we have officials seeking merchant capital all across these European kingdoms; the golden flood from the Indies subsides! Would you dare commit to such a folly as you suggest when our poverty is so clear?

Ferdinand (Imploring in tone): If we offer sufficient reward, an individual navigator would be tempted by such a venture; I know it!

Isabella: Then pray look into it, Ferdinand. Yet such a plan would rule out dear Cristobal; his financial plight should not be so healthy now.

Ferdinand (Sighs and throws up his arms in defeat): Very well. Then the charges are set?

Isabella: Unless you find reason to question his guilt?

Ferdinand: His guilt is beyond doubt; that I have already agreed. If we have no further use for him, then the charges are fair. I shall have Montalvo draught a conviction notice.

Isabella: Good.

Isabella stands and looks into the light above her.

Our Admiral’s fate rests with the Lord now.

The curtain falls.

Act 5, Scene 2

Scene: The Court of the Lions at the heart of the Alhambra’s Nasrid Palace. Bright light shines down on a circular fountain surrounded by twelve ornamental lions of marble construct. Water trickles slowly out of the ornate spout, burbling rhythmically in the pool below. The perimeter of the scene is flanked by exotic plants: acacias, chrysanthemums and yellow hornpoppies. On the stone ledge of the Fountain of Lions sit Bartolomé and Diego; standing beside them is Deza. The brothers have just informed the inquisitor of their stolen gold. A lone guard stands silently at the edge of the courtyard, keeping a lazy watch. Birds sporadically twitter in the background.

Deza (His arms outstretched): I am afraid I feel myself unable to assist you; no adequate proof exists of the stolen gold you mention.

Bartolomé: But you are a man of great authority, your holiness! Can you not sound the monarchs’ reaction to this crime?

Deza: If but I could, Bartolomé. However, I fear my interference would be most unwelcome at this juncture. Their majesties have dedicated all their time to this accursed Indies affair since arriving here; many other obligations befall them.

Bartolomé (Haughtily): Such as your inquisitorial matters!

Diego (Slaps his brother’s hand): Bartolomé…

Deza: Amongst other business, yes. I believe the Portuguese ambassador has arrived at court; you must be aware of the courtesies extended to foreign embassies.

Diego (Smiles placatingly): Of course, your holiness.

Deza: Besides, sentence on your brother has already been passed; I doubt whether their majesties would deliberate any further information.

There is a long pause, as Bartolomé and Diego look at each other with surprise. Deza looks equally surprised at their ignorance.

Deza (Softly): It is a harsh sentence, I regret to say.

Bartolomé (Jumping up): How harsh?

Deza: Relinquishment of titles; removal of lands; exile.

Diego (Astonished): Exile? From where?

Deza (Regretfully): From all Spanish realms, I believe. My apologies, I heard but few details of the full sentencing. Suffice to say, they were not encouraging; I had hoped Cristobal would find strength from the Lord to press his case. Alas, he draws on few spiritual reserves in these dark days.

Bartolomé (Furiously): This cannot be! A more unjust sentence I cannot imagine! Do their majesties have no gratitude?

Diego (Puts a hand on his brother’s arm): Careful brother…

Bartolomé (Shakes the hand away): They sit in full regality and pomp, with such pious aspirations! Yet they punish their most pious servant; their gratitude flows not beyond their sainted robes! Oh, they will listen to the slanders of a scheming knight and a manipulative jurist! What do such men know of our harshest endeavours? What do they know of our greatest challenges? We shall see how much longer that tropical mire remains in Spanish hands!

Deza (Restrained): I understand your pain, Bartolomé. Believe me, your brother is a man I admire; yet your outburst serves nobody! We are not alone in this courtyard.

Bartolomé looks towards the guard. After consideration he spits on the floor.

Bartolomé: Confound him; confound this court! What further woe can they bestow upon us?

Deza (Whispering): A sentence of imprisonment; as it stands, you are free to leave.

Diego: Think wisely, Bartolomé, our position is best served with a peaceful withdrawal. Our entreaties shall not rest, but we must be patient.

Bartolomé (His voice frantic): Patient! Their majesties would not even see us, Diego! Yet we stand accused as much as our brother. This country of law; this Renaissance bastion; this state of lawyers, bureaucrats and clerks! And yet does it know the meaning of a fair trial?

Diego (Shouting): Enough, Bartolomé! (The courtyard, including the birdsong, falls silent) They gave Cristobal three days to refute the charges. You saw his state; he was incapable of the challenge. And he was not aided by your cowardly concealments! You should be grateful you can leave this place a free man! Your quarrel lies with God now!

Bartolomé: Don’t act for the Bishop, Diego! You are no saintly Christian! Those atrocities in Hispaniola were as much your doing, as they were mine! How dare you preach sermons to me!

Deza (Standing between the brothers): Pray sit down!

Bartolomé and Diego remember their audience and sit quietly. Deza views each man in turn, a stern look upon his face. He takes several steps away from them, and their gazes follow him. The Bishop then turns to lecture them. When he speaks, it is in a slow and measured tone, which gradually increases in pace and intensity.

Deza: You dishonour each other with your verbal jousts…Mortal strength derives from unity; you must remain united…There may yet be hope of recovering your legacy…Desist from your petty blasphemies and take heart from the Lord; your faith. If an injustice has been done unto you, then it shall be resolved. But you must remain faithful to your God! Do not doubt Him! Your brother knows only too well the failings this conjures!

There is a lengthy pause as Deza thinks, his head raised above the eye-level of his listeners.

The opportunity shall arise for me to speak to their majesties. If you swear to the truth of your accusations against this Bobadilla, I shall believe you; such an abuse of office would throw doubt upon the conviction of your brother…Such deceit would infuriate their majesties!

Diego (Half-rising from the pool’s ledge): Your noble and generous gesture surpasses…

Deza (Silences Diego with an outstretched palm): If what you say, however, is a lie…

There is a long pause, during which Deza steps closer to the seated brothers.

…You shall be condemned to the fiery furnace of Hell; I shall see that you are excommunicated; I shall impress upon their majesties the necessity of prison, where you shall be burdened to suffer an indefinite term of physical and spiritual discomfort…I am a man of my word; you need only ask the inhabitants of this blasphemous citadel for proof of my vengeance against this world’s sinners! So…speak now if your chronicle of theft in the Indies matches the conversos in its falsity.

Bartolomé and Diego fidget awkwardly under the imposing shadow of the cassocked bishop, but retain their silence.

Deza: In that case, your voice shall be heard.

He exits.

Bartolomé: What a strange thing that was.

They sit silently for a few moments.

Diego: He is a man of great conviction; that is for sure. I suppose one does not elevate himself to such a position in life without it.

Bartolomé (Wistfully): It surprises me though…

Diego: His conviction?

Bartolomé: Not as such; more the fact that he was willing to take us at our word.

Diego: You heard him; we face the direst consequences if he thinks we lied. I fear such repercussions.

Bartolomé (Reassuringly): I assure you, Diego, what I said about the gold is no lie! Bobadilla has taken what is ours; he must be made to pay, even if our own sentence is not commuted.

Diego: I am convinced of your honesty, Bartolomé. Yet what if their majesties dismiss Deza’s arguments? What if they think he has been duped? Will he then not think that it is so?

Bartolomé: Deza is a man of immense power! If he approaches their majesties with as much conviction as you believe him to possess then we have nothing to fear. They would not think a man of that eminence would interfere in such a matter without just cause.

Diego: But they know him to be an acquaintance of Cristobal! This concerns me. Even bishops have their political motives.

Bartolomé (Joyously): Do not fret, brother; the truth shall speak the loudest! Why, within a few weeks we could be back aboard the caravel, seeking lands anew!

Diego: Your melancholy passed suddenly, did it not?

Bartolomé (He stands and speaks enthusiastically): Indeed; and why not? Think of the gold, Diego! Stores of gold; our legacy! All restored thanks to the good bishop! I knew we could not be completely relieved of friends! The truth shall speak the loudest!

Diego: Which truth, Bartolomé? There are many truths; not only the one you speak of.

Bartolomé (Laughs): Nonsense! How can there be more than one truth? It defies the definition of truth to suggest it exists in multiple forms!

Diego: I know there is always only one truth; in theory. (He pauses) Yet perceptive differences allow others to see that one truth in a different light. Know you not what I mean?

Bartolomé (Snorts): No; the truth rests on the evidence! And Deza’s word is evidence enough!

Diego: But there you contradict yourself, dear brother! Think of Cristobal’s trial; think of the charges brought against him! Were they true?

Bartolomé: They were anything but; vindictive lies concocted by that thief Bobadilla!

Diego (Laughs): Yet their majesties deemed Cristobal guilty of those supposed falsehoods. They thought them true.

Bartolomé (Insistently): But they were not!

Diego: But they were, brother! In the eyes of their majesties they were true, which made them so!

Bartolomé stands silently in contemplation.

Diego: That is why we cannot vouchsafe that Deza’s word will be sufficient! If their majesties think our accusations false, then Bobadilla will stand innocent; that will be the truth.

Bartolomé (Uncomprehendingly): Yet it would not be so; he is not innocent.

Diego: Not in a just world, Bartolomé. Yet in this world, he would be. (He stands and places his arm around his brother’s shoulder) You see; multiple perceptions of the truth exist! Most important, is the perception of those in power! That is what constitutes the ultimate truth, even if you know it not to be so.

The two brothers sit back down at the edge of the pool, Diego’s arm still around the shoulder of a perplexed Bartolomé.

Bartolomé (Quietly): All I wanted was to protect our legacy; I felt that much we deserved.

Diego: Your intentions were noble. Alas, I consider we may have been best served had Cristobal avoided office; yet why would he have? He discovered those lands; it is only natural he wanted to accept responsibility for their development.

Bartolomé (Dolefully): Yet he did not take responsibility. Nor me!

Diego: Not in the way their majesties had hoped, that is for sure. Cristobal is a wanderer, Bartolomé, you know that. As long as he has the capacity to stand, and the belief that his divine destiny has yet to be fulfilled, he will never stop exploring!

Bartolomé: Then are we to blame for all the ills of the Indies?

Diego: Of course not; we have merely been caught up in the politics of our time, as many a good man has before us. Their majesties are anxious of competition in the western territories; their coffers are running dry. People need to be held accountable, whether they warrant it or not. By acting decisively, their majesties can restore confidence in the colonial project. The Spanish Indies will be great, brother, believe me! Yet I fear our role in its history has drawn to a close.

Bartolomé: Which is why we need our legacy restored! Not just for gold and titles, but as acknowledgement that we played a telling part in this story; so that in generations to come, people will recall our names with fondness.

Diego (Standing): Precisely. Let us hope that becomes the ultimate truth.

The curtain falls.

Act 6, Scene 1

Scene: The Hall of the Abencerrajes. Isabella and Ferdinand are dining at the same table as before. They are accompanied at dinner by Montalvo and Ovando. Four servants wait on the party and make periodic journeys off stage for more food and wine. The fountain that occupies the centre of the room stands dormant. The room is illuminated by cavernous porticoes, sending shafts of natural light across the scene.

Ferdinand (Raising his goblet): So, it is agreed! Ovando shall assume the role of Commander of the Indies, to set sail at his first convenience!

Montalvo: Here here!

Everyone raises their glass in acknowledgement of the appointment.

Ovando: I must thank your majesties once more for this esteemed appointment.

Isabella: A loyal servant is always appreciated Senor Ovando; do not forget that.

Ovando (Smiles proudly): I shall endeavour not to, your majesty.

Ferdinand (Speaks with his mouth full of food): You must understand, Ovando, the necessity of your role. Dishonesty and treachery abound in our Indies; the Portuguese mock our internal struggles.

Ovando: You have spoken with their ambassador already?

Ferdinand is unable to answer, his mouth being stuffed. Isabella takes over.

Isabella: Indeed we have. It appears their new discoveries have given them an undeserved arrogance. You know, the ambassador had the audacity to make a monetary offer for our Indian domains! Hmm! They seem to forget their place in the world; that we could wipe out that puny race with one command of our armies!

Ovando (Gives a roar of laughter): Indeed, your majesty! Such cheek should not go unnoticed; I shall remember the slight they have dealt you!

Isabella: They seem also to have forgotten our papal agreement. Those lands belong to us; only the Holy See can say otherwise!

Montalvo (Wanting to be included in the conversation, raises his voice): Truly outrageous! I shall have word with my counterparts in the judiciary!

Ferdinand: That won’t be necessary Montalvo. I think the ambassador spoke only in jest. (Montalvo looks offended.)

Isabella: How can such a thing be in jest?

Ferdinand: It was merely a prod at our misfortune; the ambassador is not so short-sighted that he sees recent events as a turning point in the balance of power. After all, we are immeasurably stronger than them on the Peninsula! My point is, Ovando, that we need to instil some discipline into those reprobates on Hispaniola. Columbus had not the capacity; yet he was right to suggest the difficulty of the situation. These men are commoners! Whether part of the soldiery, or not, they cannot be fully trusted! (Ferdinand pounds his fist on the table)

Isabella (Annoyed): Discipline does not gravitate merely from enforcement, Ferdinand. We must endeavour to put in place a stronger Christian presence on the islands. Senor Ovando can help organise such matters, and ensure no interference encumbers them.

Ferdinand: Piety is only good when ill behaviour is first eradicated. It is not a means to discipline itself; that must come by force, or threat thereof. (He waves his finger in the air)No, religion serves a purpose afterwards, to maintain discipline, once certain standards have been imposed.

Isabella (Voice raised): We have had almost one decade to impose such standards! Force alone has clearly been insufficient!

Ferdinand: Because of Columbus’ negligence; I thought we were agreed upon that? The method is only as good as its master! (Ferdinand chuckles)

Isabella: We should have sent more priests!

Montalvo (Standing): May I interrupt, your majesties.

The monarchs fall quiet on the rising of the jurist.

Montalvo: You are both aware of the need for balance; we all are. The root cause of the problems in the Indies has been eradicated. You have a man of great repute in Senor Bobadilla, who is already working to resolve the inefficiencies of the colony. With Senor Ovando to follow, you need not worry about wise leadership. Personal power and glory must be subordinated to the good of the realm; the settlers of the Indies must know this! Señores Bobadilla and Ovando shall ensure this! (He concludes by banging the table somewhat flimsily. Ovando stifles a scoff)

At this moment a messenger enters, followed by Deza.

Ferdinand (Aside to Isabella): It appears you are soon to have a spiritual ally.

Messenger: Your Majesties, esteemed Lords, I present to you Father Diego Deza, Bishop of Palencia and Grand Inquisitor of all Spain.

Deza (Strides confidently to the head of the table): My apologies for intruding, your majesties. I would not interrupt your supping if it were not for a matter of great importance.

Ferdinand (Smiles politely and raises his goblet to the bishop): Do not worry yourself Father.

Isabella (Bows her head in reverence): It is always a pleasure and an honour Father.

Deza makes the sign of the cross on Isabella’s forehead, giving her his blessing.

Ferdinand: Please sit and join us; I know how seldom you bishops find time for dietary fulfilment.

Deza: You are very kind your majesty; but I must stand and make my entreaty to you.

Isabella (Concern in her voice): What troubles you Father?

Deza moves away from the table towards the dormant fountain. The eyes of the others follow him. He inspects the ornament for several seconds before speaking.

Deza: I have reason to question the validity of the sentencing against the Columbus brethren.

Ferdinand stands from his seat, knocking a platter from the table as he does so. He remains silent, however.

Deza: As I hope you will appreciate your majesties, I endeavour to refrain from interfering in political decisions. Since my appointment to this most prestigious of offices one year past, I have never felt obliged to question your majesties decisions. As the divine representatives of God on earth I have unbounded faith in your ability to pass judgement. However, on this occasion, I believe, through no fault of your own, that you have been falsely swayed.

Ferdinand (Uncertainly): And what persuades you thus?

Deza: I have spoken at length to Bartolomé and Diego; they have revealed to me a fact not made clear during Cristobal’s refutation.

Montalvo (Moves towards Deza): And what might that be, Father? I assure you my handling of the evidence was carried out with the utmost diligence.

Deza (Turning away): I do not doubt that it was, Senor Montalvo. Yet, the evidence I speak of was apparently absent from that presented at court.

Isabella (Stands): What evidence has been overlooked, Father?

Ferdinand: Yes Deza, pray inform us. I am keen to rid ourselves of this lingering concern!

Deza (Pauses deliberately): This is a grave matter, your majesty. Don Cristobal’s legacy rests on an honest conclusion.

Ferdinand: We are all aware of your personal fondness for Cristobal Columbus, inquisitor! As for his legacy, his fate has already been decreed! Do you wish to challenge the sentence passed by your King and Queen?

Deza (Taking a few steps towards Ferdinand, who remains by the table): That is precisely my motive for being here, if you remember your majesty.

Isabella (Confused): Please, Father, illuminate our errors if that they may be!

Deza (Bows slightly to the queen): I apologise, your majesty, it was not my want to bewilder you. (He begins to pace)Am I right in thinking that Senor Bobadilla provided the evidence for the case against Columbus?

Montalvo: Well, of course; that was his appointed duty by their majesties!

Deza (Sharply): I am not questioning the details of his duty, Senor Montalvo. But, tell me, is he responsible for the integrity of the evidence provided? The testimonies and so forth?

Montalvo (Sounding exasperated): In theory yes…

Deza: So he is then. (Smiles at Montalvo) It may surprise you to learn that the honourable knight held back certain information one would have to consider pertinent to Don Cristobal’s defence.

Ferdinand: And what would that be?

Deza: Certain financial details.

Ferdinand (Shouts in frustration): Which are what Deza? Pray, stop speaking in riddles!

Isabella (Aside to Ferdinand): Hold your tongue, Ferdinand. Forget you who it is you berate?

Deza: Senor Bobadilla has, to my knowledge, subsumed the Columbus estate in the Indies and taken possession of his family’s gold!

There is a long pause.

Deza (Walks to the table and fills a goblet with water): It is my understanding that the gold in question belongs to the Columbus family, not the office of governor. Furthermore, that were Senor Bobadilla to confiscate such wealth, he would be expected to declare it to your majesties to decide on its fate. The fact he has retained a guilty silence throws doubt over all his allegations with regards to Don Cristobal’s rule.

There is another long pause. Ferdinand and Isabella exchange glances.

Ferdinand (Thoughtful in tone): If what you say is true, then Bobadilla has indeed misled us. Nonetheless, you say this accusation of theft comes courtesy of Cristobal’s siblings?

Deza: That is correct.

Ferdinand: Those who seek to share the rewards encompassed by their brother’s legacy?

Montalvo laughs.

Deza: You think they lie, your majesty?

Ferdinand: It appears to me unusual that this tale was not before brought to light.

Deza: Don Cristobal has remained oblivious to Bobadilla’s thievery, your majesty! His only concern has been his spiritual sanctity! Besides, you would not grant Bartolomé and Diego an audience.

Montalvo (Hysterically): And let them fill the court with more outrageous slanders against honest men!

Deza (He approaches Montalvo swiftly): You think me not honest, sir? Dost thou forget with whom you speak?

Montalvo falls silent, cowering backwards.

Isabella: This is an alarming turn of events, Father. But you yourself must have questioned the integrity of the brothers. After all, it is they who stand to profit from a reversal of our sentence.

Deza: Your majesty, they informed me of this theft of gold before they were aware of the sentence handed down to Don Cristobal! They had wanted to inform their brother of Bobadilla’s treachery last night, yet the guard foiled their attempts! Do not think me rash in my judgement of men! They swore to me, with the threat of eternal damnation for their sins, that what they said was true!

Isabella (To Ferdinand): One would not breathe falsities in the face of eternal hell!

Ferdinand (To Isabella): These men cannot be trusted, Isabella; they are not of our kingdom! You can vouch for the piety of Don Cristobal; but as for his brothers…

Montalvo: Whether Bobadilla stole or not, it must not detract from Don Cristobal’s crimes! His negligence has been soundly proved!

Deza (Rounding on Montalvo): By the testimony of a liar!

Montalvo: No, Father. By the testimony of a colony! (He retreats to the table to retrieve some parchment. On returning to Deza, he thrusts the paper in his hands) A heady list of charges, Father; all supported by witnesses aplenty.

Deza: Who are they to argue with their governor? I am not denying the obvious dissatisfaction that existed with the Columbus rule, Senor Montalvo. Still, is that not greater reason to occasion a conspiracy? Do you not see? Bobadilla’s intentions must be dismissed as self-serving! If he stole the gold, it is clear he wanted to usurp power from Don Cristobal. How better to do this than by preying on the frustrations of the common soldiers? The whole body of evidence must be considered doubtful in light of this discovery!

Ferdinand (Shouts): Enough! (Voice quietens)Conspiracy and intrigue abound; we must approach this contradiction in a rational way. Montalvo, go summon Cristobal and his brothers! This cannot be settled in their absence.

Montalvo (Clearly disappointed by the command): Your majesty, would you not rather send a messenger?

Ferdinand: Montalvo, I would have you fetch Bobadilla had you strength enough to swim to Hispaniola! I did not misspeak; pray fetch Don Cristobal and his brothers!

Montalvo stands idly for a few seconds. A sharp stare from Ferdinand forces him into action. He exits.

Ferdinand (Sits at the table): How I grow tired of bureaucrats…Ovando, you have remained silent throughout this entreaty. What think you of these latest charges?

Ovando (Who has remained seated the whole time): An interesting interlude. (He pauses) My knowledge of Indian affairs is limited to what I have heard at court. I feel disinclined to vent my opinions on a subject in which I am no expert.

Isabella (Also sits back at the table): I see no harm in it. After all, everyone else has had their say; and it is you who is destined to serve under Bobadilla.

Ovando (Sips from his goblet): I thank your majesty for your interest. What I have to say derives from the impressions I have formulated of the men in question, for I know none of them personally. (He stands) Bobadilla is a knight, a man of honour! Whilst we may be derided for our chivalrous intentions, there is nothing that concerns us more than serving our King and Queen, the ambassadors of God. That said, it is rumoured that Bobadilla has lived a life of opulence up to now. Such a fact, if true, would run contrary to his moral responsibility towards modesty.

Ferdinand (Seemingly disinterested): He lives a lavish lifestyle then? I was unaware.

Ovando: As I say, your majesty, my testimony is based largely on hearsay. It is true, many of us knights are possessed of outstanding wealth; particularly those, such as myself, who have been rewarded handsomely by the spoils of war. Yet I have not before come across said Bobadilla in the heat of battle. Pray tell me your majesty, where has he served?

Ferdinand (Defensively): He fought with great capability throughout the Reconquista! Ronda, Almeria, Malaga! All those glorious sieges profited from Bobadilla’s military strategy.

Ovando: An enviable record! It is odd I never came across the man; for I too was at Malaga and Almeria, albeit in my more youthful days. (He smiles) In that event, your majesties, I can see why you entrusted him with his new position of responsibility. It shall be an honour to serve under such an esteemed character!

Isabella: Of course. Yet these tales of grandiosity on Senor Bobadilla’s part are quite alarming. Apart from the taxes he collects on his lands, I know not where he would attain such wealth.

Ferdinand: Fiscal profligacy is something we cannot afford in our colonies! It is to be expected that the common soldier will endeavour to improve his lot through petty thievery and hoarding. But when an individual or clique develops within the colonial administration, the whole system will fester. Cristobal’s reign has taught us much about financial waste! It must not be repeated!

Isabella: You think Bobadilla untrustworthy?

Ferdinand (Pensively): Perhaps. I must admit I gave not a thought to the personal wealth of the Columbus family. They benefited from a generous royal salary and a percentage of native tribute. Add that to their more questionable commercial activities and it would be foolish to think them destitute.

Deza: Bobadilla must be held accountable, your majesty!

Ferdinand (Stands to confront Deza): This must not detract from Cristobal’s negligence! I am inclined to believe the story presented by you, Father. Yet a full exoneration of your navigator shall not be forthcoming!

Deza: But your majesty, Bobadilla’s guilt throws doubt on the other charges!

Ferdinand: So you keep saying. Nevertheless, I believe most of those charges to hold true, even if they have been manipulated somewhat for personal gain.

Isabella (Walks over to Deza): I have to agree with the King, Father. Don Cristobal shall always maintain my admiration and gratitude for his monumental accomplishments. But to overlook his chaotic governance would be a sign of weakness on our part.

Ovando (His interruption causes the others to turn towards him): What sum of money do the brothers claim has been taken from them?

Deza: A hefty sum! I cannot recall an exact figure! They shall surely have to be compensated for their loss, regardless of their punishment.

Ferdinand (Absent-mindedly): If it were that simple…

Isabella: If Bobadilla has stolen the money, then he shall repay it! Don Cristobal and his brothers must remain patient.

Ferdinand (Slams the table with his fist): Why should we provide recompense to criminals?

Isabella: The money belongs to them, Ferdinand!

Ferdinand (Shouts): I disagree! This incident of theft raises the spectre of Bobadilla’s deceit! Yet is a deceit shared by the Columbus family! Nothing shall alter the sentence passed against them; the money belongs to the Crown!

Deza: Please, your majesty, wealth alone is insufficient to save your colony.

Ferdinand: Which is why I want dishonest men removed from it!

Ovando (Standing for the first time): If I may intercede…what Hispaniola needs is a stronger royal presence.

Isabella: How do you mean?

Ovando: It appears to me that there is not enough accountability for individuals over there. A strong body of royal officials is a necessity to stave off the threat of dictatorship. A colony cannot progress courtesy of unilateral decisions!

Isabella: But what would prevent this council you speak of acting purely in its members interests?

Ovando: Frequent rotation of personnel. Our maritime capabilities improve all the time, your majesties; it is easier to transport men across the Western Ocean than ever before. Take advantage of this phenomenon! Create an administrative tie between Spain and our overseas domains. Only in that way can corruption be negated!

Deza (Speaking directly to Isabella): I fear we are straying from the matter in hand, your majesty.

Isabella: Senor Ovando does have a point, Father. Your revelation of Bobadilla’s authority calls into question our whole strategy in the Indies. For too long we have refrained from making the changes necessary, so overwhelmed have we been with internal reform.

Deza: But what about Don Cristobal, your majesty? He should not alone absorb the blame for a failed system!

Ferdinand (Clapping his fist in his palm): His punishment is for his own crimes, Father! Nothing more!

Isabella: There may yet be a use for him…

Ferdinand: How can you detract now?

Deza (Delighted): Yes, your majesty! What have you in mind?

The conference is interrupted by the return of Montalvo. He is followed by Cristobal, Bartolomé, and Diego.

Montalvo (With unnecessary emphasis): I return with the condemned, your majesties!

The three brothers wait at the edge of the hall.

Deza: Come forth, Don Cristobal, their majesties are reviewing your sentence!

Ferdinand: Do not raise false hopes, Father. We have said nothing of a review.

Columbus steps forward. Bartolomé and Diego remain on the edge of the scene. The mariner kneels at the feet of Deza.

Columbus (Head bowed): Father, how glad I am to be in your presence.

Almost as an afterthought he turns to the monarchs.

Columbus: Your majesties, thank you for summoning me.

Ferdinand (Not looking at Columbus): It was a necessary sacrifice Cristobal.

Isabella: We ask for your help Don Cristobal.

Columbus (Self-pityingly): You ask for the help of a condemned man?  Surely you would be better served by someone other than this Devil!

Isabella (Sharply): Refrain from your self-pity! The sentence given unto you was fair in the circumstances!

Deza (Imploringly): But those circumstances have changed your majesty!

Isabella: In part, yes.

Ferdinand (Steps away to refill his glass): But do not think yourself reprieved Cristobal; nor your brothers!

Columbus (Finally standing): Pray tell me, your majesties, what new evidence has come to light to throw doubt upon my conviction?

As Deza and the monarchs begin to inform Columbus of the accusations aimed towards Bobadilla, the foreground is taken by Bartolomé and Diego, detached as they are from the main party.

Bartolomé (Hushed tones): It appears the good bishop has rallied to our cause!

Diego: Indeed, his patronage of our dear brother is something he has not forgotten. Yet, the King seems unswayed. He is not one to compromise on an issue such as this!

Bartolomé: You think the ultimate truth eludes him still?

Diego: The ultimate truth is what he says it is; no doubt his mind will already be decided.

Bartolomé: The fact we have been summoned alone must be considered fortunate.

Diego: I agree. The monarchs have at least ascribed some truth to the claims against Bobadilla.

Bartolomé: And well they might; what else could have happened to our gold?

Diego: We may yet hear some theories with regards to that question, Bartolomé.

The focus returns to Columbus who has been enlightened as to the loss of his gold.

Columbus (Taking centre stage, he faces the audience): So Bobadilla has usurped my wealth in addition to my title! (Sarcastically) The negligent governor is replaced by the corrupt governor! How fortunate the Spanish colonies are to have such esteemed leadership!

Ferdinand: Your derision does not flatter you, Cristobal! You think we appoint our colonial administrators without consideration?

Columbus (Half-bowing): Of course not, your majesty. Yet to think that man stole from me and my family! Can a person stoop lower without his nose scraping the loamy earth?

Ferdinand: Do you mean to say you were unaware of this theft? That you had no inkling as to your loss?

Columbus (Woeful): None at all! My thoughts were concerned by spiritual matters alone during my voyage of imprisonment. Material wealth I have never coveted! Is that not so Father?

Deza (Nervously): Of course, Cristobal, but…

Diego (Quickly moves forward to interrupt): Cristobal rarely concerned himself with money, your majesties. He entrusted the financial resources of our family to me and my brother here. (He points towards Bartolomé) In truth, Cristobal would have little clue as to the significance of our loss. It was only with the knowledge of his spiritual frailty that we did not burden him with this grave news sooner!

Ferdinand (Aside to Isabella): This brother is sharp, no?

Isabella: He is certainly loyal to Cristobal.

Ferdinand (Looking at Columbus): Is it not strange that a man entrusted with the functioning of a colony should refrain from financial responsibilities? Who, in your lack of interest, did you trust with the delegation of funds on Hispaniola, Cristobal?

Diego (Interrupting): That was Bartolomé, your ma…

Ferdinand (Holds up a hand): I asked Cristobal sir!

Columbus: Yes… (Glances at Diego) it was Bartolomé, your majesty. I entrusted him with these important matters. In fact, so dedicated was he to his task that he regularly quizzed me on my exploratory expenditure. On one occasion, in the interests of this blessed crown, he refused to grant me a full request of funds.

Ferdinand (Smiles wryly at Bartolomé, who is standing at the back of the party): A very loyal servant you are sir.

Bartolomé (Half-bows): Thank you, your majesty.

Columbus: Your majesties, my only loyalties have been to your glorious realm and my own personal legacy as a man of action. All of my governing duties, for good or for worse, were conducted in the interest of your kingdom. For financial reward, I cared not. That is why your sentence pains me so grievously, for you have removed from me the things I hold dearest. The opportunity to serve this holy realm; the legacy my family sought to build in your honour; and the chance to voyage, and stretch the horizons of human knowledge evermore! The Orient; the Seven Cities; the earthly Paradise; I dreamt of finding them all. Yet, it seems I am now redundant! My spirit destined to fester away until all that is left is this hideous shell!

There is a pause. Columbus sobs quietly. Ovando sits at the table chewing a bone. Ferdinand wears a face of anger, whilst Isabella is moved to pity. Deza stands removed with Bartolomé and Diego.

Ferdinand (Angrily): I must ask you all to leave! Reason must not be overlooked in favour of emotion!

Deza (Cautiously): But, your majesty, you cannot expect emotion to be absent in this case. The lives of men are at stake!

Ferdinand (Restrained): Nobody’s life is at stake, Father. Indeed, all I can see that is at stake is our colony! Once again personal grievances are being given precedent over what is important; the whole!

Deza: The whole is but a collection of personal sentiments, your majesty. One cannot have a stable colony with unhappy colonists.

Ferdinand (Touches Deza’s shoulder with an outstretched hand): Father, I ask you again to vacate this troubling hall. I have the utmost respect for your spiritual duties; yet for someone supposedly not akin to political interference you are causing me great mental strife!

Isabella (To the room): I pray you all to obey the King. A peaceful setting equates to a peaceful mind. We shall reconvene in due course in the Hall of Ambassadors.

All except Ferdinand and Isabella exit.

Ferdinand: Why say you the Hall of Ambassadors?

Isabella (Removing her tiara): It is a far more balanced scene; the arrangement in here breeds confusion and dissent. It unsettles the mind, as we have just witnessed.

Ferdinand (Wearily): Perhaps you are right. We may have been wiser ignoring our architects overtures for redesign. One thing the Moors grasped was the well-proportioned room.

Isabella: They were greatly knowledgeable in mathematics.

Ferdinand nods and returns to sit at the table, which has by now been cleared.

Ferdinand: I cannot accept the tale spun to me by Deza.

Isabella (Surprised): You do not believe our most beloved Bishop?

Ferdinand: It is not him whom I disbelieve. Rather, those brothers…(He tails off)

Isabella: They should have been present at the refutations.

Ferdinand (Sighs): I know. I thought their attendance would only heighten our confusion; engender further contradictions. Yet those contradictions may have proved their undoing. Not one of them has confessed to any of the charges! I believed Cristobal to be on the brink of an admission of his guilt this morning. What prevented him from confession? After you had spoken with him; Deza too! A man of such spirit would surely have seen the merit in acknowledging his sins!

Isabella: He was open about the slavery.

Ferdinand (Annoyed): Yes, but he did not respond as if he thought it a crime! Everything was justified with a petty excuse! Every accusation countered with an example of his accomplishments! I tell you, Isabella, it is his brothers who steer him!

Isabella (Unconvinced): Why would he be swayed by his younger siblings? It is they that have always followed faithfully in his shadow!

Ferdinand: Once they did! But you have seen Cristobal now; he has retreated to the cocoon which bore him! No longer can I be considered the same species that once wowed us in this very hall. He has virtually admitted as much! And what about his ignorance of the gold?

Isabella: What about it?

Ferdinand (Exasperated): He was clueless in regards to the gold that has supposedly been removed from him! He was on the verge of dismissing its existence until the one brother intervened! If Cristobal had no control over Hispaniola’s funds, then it changes the scenario again!

Isabella (Impatiently): How so Ferdinand?

Ferdinand: How can we be sure that the said gold was obtained honestly? Accusations of theft exist against the family! We have seen it on the charge sheet!

Isabella: But that is irrelevant! If Bobadilla usurped the gold from the Columbus family, he is as guilty as them! As for the charge sheet, Deza is right! How can we trust the accusations of the accused?

Ferdinand (Pounds the table with his fist): They shall not have that gold, Isabella! We owe them no compensation!

Isabella (Stands): I agree with you, if you would care to remember! There is a satisfactory means of resolving this disorder!

Ferdinand (Slumps in his chair): I am open-eared.

Isabella: What does the fate of an overseas territory, so far detached from the Motherland, rest upon?

Ferdinand (Thinks before answering): Discipline; efficient administration; a constant labour supply. What of it?

Isabella: Yes, but what term would you use to encompass the determinants you describe.

Ferdinand (Exhales) I don’t know…ruthlessness?

Isabella: Yes, a not undesirable term. I was thinking of consistency, but ruthlessness is fine. The pursuit of a clear goal without compromise! Is that fair?

Ferdinand (Shrugs): I think so. I believe I said something of the sort a few days past.

Isabella (Nods): Yes, you did. You defended Cristobal’s punishment of uncooperative natives; yet you condemned his decimation of the population because of the adverse effects it would have on the labour supply. I suppose you could call that a ruthless mentality. There is one facet of this ruthlessness that we have sorely overlooked, I fear.

Ferdinand (Disinterested): We have? Please enlighten me!

Isabella (Angry): Of course, if you have no wish to resolve the matter we can sit in silence!

Ferdinand: Pray continue, I am eager to learn what grievous mistake we have made.

Isabella (Ignores his sarcasm): To maintain discipline, to ensure efficiency in all corners of colonial administration there is one thing a monarch must do.

Isabella pauses. Ferdinand looks up at her expectantly.

Isabella: One must employ people in the capacity in which they are accustomed to!

Ferdinand (Unimpressed by the revelation): That goes without saying. We always endeavour to induct only the very best into our colonial service.

Isabella (Passionately): Quality of person alone is not the issue. A man must not be withdrawn from his arena of comfort. Look at Don Cristobal, for instance! A master navigator; an explorer with no contemporary equals! Yet what of him as an administrator?

Ferdinand (Waves a hand): Totally negligent!

Isabella (Smiles): Precisely! Whatever service he performed in the past, and to whatever great standard, it was not sufficient to make him a good governor! One is not a fisherman and a juror, Ferdinand!

Ferdinand (Examining a loose thread on the cuffs of his robe): Indeed.

Isabella (Continues passionately): The same can be said of the colonists. We have for too long sent soldiers to accompany Don Cristobal’s voyages to the Indies. Why? They have seldom been put to their rightful use! The Taino are a docile people; they have rarely posed a military threat. Yet we persist in populating our islands with soldiers! These men are not going to toil passively in the tropical heat! We must supplement them with true labourers. You say the demise of the indigenous people threatens the labour supply. Well, why not send our Spanish farmers out there? Why not utilise their knowledge? Idle soldiers breed discontent and unrest! They were born to fight, not till the earth! It is inevitable that they should plot and steal from one another! Our colonial vision needs readjustment!

Ferdinand (Indifferently): Then we send more workers out there. But we must not forget this realm of ours, Isabella. Our primary concern must be stable production at home; surplus harvests have been a rare thing these past few years.

Isabella (Adamant): Only because of climatic conditions! This is not a trend that will persist according to our scholars! We have too many agriculturalists for our lands! That explains the excess of soldiers. Better distribution will provide a happy balance at home and abroad!

Ferdinand: I sense you have found a new use for our master navigator then?

Isabella: Not a new one, no! Have you not listened to my plea? Cristobal is an explorer; a discoverer of great lands! You complain of our failure to move beyond Hispaniola. What better way to address this concern?

Ferdinand (Intrigued): On what terms would you have him remain in our service?

Isabella (Enthusiastic): We must restore his titles…

Ferdinand makes an exclamation of disagreement.

Isabella: Pray hear me out. (She pauses) We must restore his titles, for without him believing his family has a legacy he will be of no use to us. He must renounce his claim to the wealth Bobadilla has purportedly taken from him and…

Ferdinand (Disbelieving): He should never accept such terms!

Isabella (Frustrated by the interruption): He must renounce his claim to the wealth, on the condition that we compensate him…

Ferdinand (Stands and shouts): We shall not compensate him, Isabella! We cannot afford to do so; besides, I have no desire to show charity to a man who has abused our trust!

Isabella remains silent for some time. Her breathing is heavy and she fixes Ferdinand with a furious stare. The king is moved by her anger.

Ferdinand (Re-seats himself): Pray continue, though. I have no intention of disrupting your flow again.

Isabella (Defiantly): The compensation shall not be a full repatriation of his wealth. I speak in terms of patronage; in offering Don Cristobal the chance to resume his service to this realm in the only way he is worthy. Through a new voyage! We should finance another exploratory mission for him to the Indies! In that way, we circumvent the need to repay him for our overlooking of Bobadilla’s misdemeanours, whilst taking advantage of his undoubted talents!

Ferdinand (Considers for several seconds before nodding): It could work; would he accept such a compromise?

Isabella (Sits down next to Ferdinand): I have no doubt, as much as I know that his brothers will detest the idea! We must speak to Don Cristobal in the language that he understands best!

Ferdinand: And that is?

Isabella (Whispers intensely): The language of God! For that is the fundamental determinant of the future of our colony! Man and religion must be united; not only to appease the Lord, but to give each man the strength to fulfil his natural duties! We have before been too hasty in exploiting our new territories! Yes, it was out of necessity as much as greed! But only through an organised Christian presence and a shared vision of development shall our colony thrive! It is not only Don Cristobal’s legacy that is at stake!

The curtain falls.

Act 6, Scene 2

Scene: An ante-chamber off the Hall of Abencerrajes. The room is narrow and poorly lit. The only furnishing is a wooden altar, standing atop which are a crucifix and a bible. Bartolomé and Diego stand either side of the altar, discussing the latest proceedings.

Diego (Confidently): Their majesties have much to consider. Had they not dismissed us so readily I would have thought our cause lost. Yet their desire for privacy gives us hope of a favourable resolution.

Bartolomé (Unsure): You think they will fall in our favour?

Diego: At least partially. Their majesties will not want to face charges of hypocrisy. If they ignore Bobadilla’s crimes they cannot be said to have acted judiciously. That gold may yet return to our possession.

Bartolomé (Uneasily): There is something you ought to know about the gold.

Diego (Frowns): There is?

Bartolomé (Pauses): It is not in our possession…that is to say it has for some time been absent from our keeping.

There is a silence.

Diego (Leans on the altar to peer closer at Bartolomé): I fear I do not understand you brother.

Bartolomé (Nervously): The gold…our gold…is being held…

Diego (Emphatic): By Bobadilla!

Bartolomé (Turns away): No.

There is a lengthy silence. Diego unknowingly clutches the crucifix to his breast.

Diego (Shocked): Thou sayest no?

Bartolomé (Trembling): I acted impetuously, Diego. I could not stand to watch Cristobal suffer the trickeries wrought unto him by that awful man. For that is what he is, brother, an awful man! He may not have robbed our gold; yet he has deprived us of our legacy. Only for personal gain did he come to our fair isle.

Diego (Weakly): I…I…

Bartolomé (Turns to face Diego): Do not think ill of me brother! I thought only of our family!

Diego: But Deza…

He suddenly rushes at Bartolomé and holds him up by his collar, dropping the crucifix in the process.

Diego (Fiercely): How could you mislead me so? Have you no moral qualms? We shall be excommunicated for this! Condemned to spend eternity in the fiery bowels of Hell! For what? To slur the name of an innocent man!

Bartolomé (Choking): I would not call him…innocent.

Diego (Shoves his brother against the wall): He is in this instance! You have played me for a fool, brother! And the Bishop!

Bartolomé (Cowering at Diego’s feet): I would have told you brother. But the more prolonged my silence, the harder it became to break.

Diego (Incredulous): So why break it now? Why could my ignorance not persist until the conclusion of this sordid affair!

Bartolomé (Tamely): My burden became unbearable. It burned inside me.

Diego (Whirls around in exasperation): Well that is a feeling with which you shall have to familiarise yourself!

Bartolomé: What are we to do?

Diego (Turns sharply on him): Nothing! What can we now do but further incriminate ourselves? (He pauses and regulates his breathing) We must retain a veneer of calm. Tell me truly, where is our gold?

Bartolomé (Stands unsteadily): The…the merchants hold it for us.

Diego (Impatiently): Which merchants are these?

Bartolomé (Looks down): The slavers.

Diego (Stoops to replace the crucifix at the altar): The slave-traders have our money?

Bartolomé nods.

Diego (Laughs): Then we have been robbed.

Bartolomé (Quickly responds): They would not steal from us, Diego! Their gratitude towards us would not permit it.

Diego (Mocking): Gratitude! Do not fool yourself, brother. A more ungracious fellow you could not find than a slave-trader. Were their majesties to know this…

Bartolomé (Interrupts): They would not suspect it.

Diego: I daresay you are right. A more preposterous story I cannot imagine! What encouraged you to make a bank out of slavers?

Bartolomé (Leans against the altar, close to Bartolomé. He speaks forthrightly): It was obvious to me when Bobadilla arrived that our time on Hispaniola was up. Despite my authority during your absence he overruled me constantly, claiming royal decree permitted him to do so. He treated me with disdain and contempt and made frequent reference to a ‘new era’ in the history of the colony. Panicking, I tried to save what few worldly possessions we had left. I knew Bobadilla would halt the slave trade immediately. So, on the slavers most recent visit I intercepted them at the beach. I told them that they must retreat and pleaded with them to hold our gold indefinitely. When Bobadilla enquired as to the visitors’ occupation, I passed them off as Portuguese merchants who I had turned away.

Diego (Confused): But what made you think the slavers would keep their promise?

Bartolomé: I knew the time would come when we would head back to Spain. Once here, I assumed we would lobby the monarchs for support and they would reinstate our authority in the Indies. I never considered the possibility of a trial. The slavers would return for business, and we would be repatriated with our gold.

Diego (Shakes his head): And now what of the gold? It is lost!

Bartolomé: Not necessarily. If we can negotiate a service with the slavers I am certain they would return our gold.

Diego: But that would be dependent on us returning to the Indies. Unless matters change, we shall not be permitted to do so. Besides, I have no desire to see those sultry lands anymore.

Bartolomé: Nor me, but there are other lands with more preferable provisions.

Diego (Suspicious): By provisions you mean men?

Bartolomé (Eagerly): Right. They say the Portuguese have innumerate dominions in which the sale of labour is profitable.

Diego (Raises his voice): It is one thing to con their majesties out of compensatory gold! It is another to betray the bishop and our spiritual Father! But to switch our allegiance now? We would be better off in jail!

Before Bartolomé can answer, there is a noise and Deza enters. The brothers turn in horror at the bishop’s appearance.

Deza (Walks to the altar): I pray I am not interrupting.

Diego (Anxious): Not at all, Father. We are only concerned about their majesties’ resolution. What shall become of our gold?

Deza: Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Bartolomé (Quietly): I am familiar with that passage.

Deza (Opening the Bible in front of him): I do not doubt that you are. I also understand your suffering, Bartolomé.

Bartolomé (Nervously): My suffering Father?

Deza: No man likes to feel wronged, Bartolomé. Whether he knows in his heart the just ends of his actions, it is easy to feel slighted. Retribution is an endeavour to avoid however. Such a path cannot affect the ultimate judgement of humanity.

Bartolomé (Failing to hold Deza’s stare): My actions are not driven by a lust for riches, Father. Nor are they directed by a desire for petty retribution. I seek justice; nothing more.

Deza (Smiling): Don’t we all. (He steps away to face the audience): You know this is a new kingdom? For many it is little more than a doctrine; an invented concept. Know you what I speak of?

Diego (Unsure): The Moors, Father?

Deza: No, not the Moors. I know for a fact that they do not recognise this realm; even the Conversos. No I speak of the Castilians; the Aragonese; the Leonese; the Basques. For them there is no Spain; no united kingdom. I have travelled these lands for the duration of my adult life, brothers. In my time I have noted regional differences that defy the idea of a shared ancestry; a shared future. Why, they still have a separate parliament in Aragon for domestic affairs!

Deza pauses. Diego and Bartolomé remain silent, watching the inquisitor warily.

You must both recognise the difficulties of state-building. This is not a matter to be taken lightly; the uniting of two ancient crowns by marriage cannot heal divisions overnight. The colonial project is an opportunity for their majesties to create something distinctly Spanish! Something for men from across these disparate lands to be enticed by! Something they can share in as countrymen! You can surely understand the pressure facing our holy monarchs when responding to these drawn-out accusations, can you not? Their own legacy is at stake here. At this very moment their daughter, Juana, is locked in confinement, her disposition nervous and melancholy. Her infant son Charles is but a year old and the Infante John is three years since perished. What would happen, Lord help us, should their majesties leave this realm for the heavenly sphere? The kingdom they have strove so desperately to forge would fracture, falling into the hands of a ruthless Burgundian! What then of a Spanish Empire? A Spanish kingdom? (Whispers defiantly)We cannot afford to tear the fabric of this precious union apart when its future is already so tenuous.

Diego: I assure you Father, we mean no disrespect by our anxiety. It is a natural emotion facing a family in crisis.

Deza (Draws close to Diego): Then you remain certain in your story?

Diego (Pauses, shaking somewhat): We cannot alter the truth, Father.

Deza (Breaks away and laughs): Of course! One would not be so foolish as to lie in God’s presence.

There is a another silence.

Diego (Smiles weakly): I have complete faith in their majesties’ judgement.

Deza: I am glad. For it is they that represent the Lord on this earth!

Ovando enters suddenly. He looks suspiciously at the group congregated in the ante-room.

Ovando: My apologies, sirs. But their majesties have called for your presence in the Ambassador’s Hall.

The others appear confused.

Ovando (Flings his arm dismissively): The big hall with the elevated thrones.

Ovando exits.

Deza (Stands in the way of Bartolomé and Diego): Remember; their majesties’ decision may hold in this mortal kingdom. But a far greater judgement awaits you in heaven.

Deza exits. Bartolomé and Diego pause for several moments in the ante-room. Eventually they follow.

The curtain falls.

Act 6, Scene 3

Scene: The Hall of Ambassadors. Isabella and Ferdinand sit in their elevated thrones. They are flanked on either side by Montalvo and Ovando. Columbus stands before them. His beard has been trimmed and his hair styled. He wears a clean white linen shirt, and black velvet trousers.

Columbus (Head raised): Your majesties, pray remove me from my ignorance! How have you determined my fate?

Ferdinand: It is not only your fate which we are determining Cristobal. We must await the arrival of your brothers, for they too must be present for our final judgement on this matter.

Isabella (Impatiently): Where are they? Did we not send for them?

Ovando (Proudly): I assure you they are coming, your majesty. A conversation of great intensity seemed to be preoccupying them and the Grand Inquisitor. I am quite sure we shall not be kept waiting.

Ferdinand (Frustrated): Confound that meddling bishop!

Isabella (Rebukes him): How can you speak of our most Holy Father so? He has endeavoured to lend us his assistance in this affair and provided great moral support to the defendants!

Ferdinand (Turns to Isabella): Need I remind you that this affair was resolved before Deza’s interference?

Isabella: Before all the pertinent evidence came to light!

Ferdinand (Groans): Ah, but we have no new evidence aside from the story of two hopeful convicts, who the Father in his divine wisdom has placed all his faith in!

Deza enters with Bartolomé and Diego.

Deza (Strides towards the thrones): I was hoping your majesty would be more accommodating to my entreaty by now. I was sadly mistaken.

Ferdinand (Embarrassed at being overheard): On the contrary…the Queen and I have resolved to alter the punishments meted out against the Columbus family. Your intervention has proved decisive.

Columbus (Loses his composure and falls to his knees): Oh thank you your majesties! Praise your divine glory! (Turns to Deza) And you Father! What a fine ambassador you are to our Christian religion!

Deza (Looks disapprovingly at Columbus): Pray conduct yourself as one befitting your rank, Cristobal.

Columbus gets sheepishly to his feet, wincing slightly at the physical pain it causes. Bartolomé and Diego stand either side of him. Deza takes his place between the monarchical party and the Columbus brothers.

Isabella: You have drafted the necessary changes, Senor Montalvo?

Montalvo (Disappointed): I have your majesty.

Isabella: Excellent. Then I see no further reason to delay this procedure. Unless the defendants have any final remarks?

There is silence. Deza looks intently at Bartolomé who looks to the floor and shakes his head gently.

Ferdinand (Abruptly): In that case, we must end this! The previous convictions against the defendants are hereby removed. The Crown of Castile and Aragon approves the restoration of the defendants’ titles and recognises their entitlement to free passage through any of our glorious, righteous lands. In addition, we decree that Don Cristobal Columbus shall embark on a new voyage of discovery across the Western Ocean where he shall endeavour to find new lands of riches for this glorious realm. By agreeing to finance this latest venture, the Crown dismisses the defendants’ request for monetary compensation for the wealth confiscated by Senor Bobadilla, the incumbent Governor of the Indies. As acknowledgement of his many grave errors whilst holding this said position, Don Cristobal is warned to conduct himself with the utmost care in his future endeavours. Any similar dereliction of his appointed duty shall result in his indefinite incarceration.

Isabella (Interrupts): Do you understand the final outcome of your refutation, Don Cristobal?

Columbus: Yes your majesty. May I extend my gratitude to you for once more placing your divine faith in my navigational expertise! How I long to feel the sea breeze ruffle my collar after so many months trapped on this troubled land! Oh, is it not wonderful brothers? We voyage again in search of the Orient!

Diego (Stone-Faced): It is a very satisfactory conclusion, your majesties. I am most grateful. (He bows)

Deza (Steps forward): And what say you Bartolomé?

Bartolomé (Struggling to control his disappointment): Wonderful, your majesties. (He too bows) What a splendid way to compensate us for our tragic loss.

Columbus (Tentative): There is one thing I am not entirely clear on, your majesties. If you pardon my saying so?

Ferdinand (Bored): Go ahead Don Cristobal.

Columbus: Thank you. (Clears his throat) You say we are to have our titles restored. Thus, as you have deemed Senor Bobadilla guilty by virtue of offering us this compensatory voyage, I presume my governorship awaits me in Hispaniola?

Montalvo (Laughs): You presume wrong, Don Cristobal!

Columbus (Shouts): I spoke not to you, bureaucrat! Your majesties, he jests with me surely?

Ferdinand looks at Isabella and smiles. He gestures for her to speak.

Isabella (Sighs): Alas, Don Cristobal, Señor Montalvo is correct. Your presumption was wrong.

Columbus (Kneels on one knee): I do not understand your majesty. I thought you had re-assessed my punishment!

Isabella: Indeed we have. In light of the new evidence presented by Bishop Deza, we amended our judgement. Yet that does not excuse your negligent ways in administering our territories in the Indies. Whether Senor Bobadilla exaggerated your crimes, your own contradictory and confusing refutation proved to us your guilt in certain matters. We therefore request that you refrain from returning to Hispaniola. Our colonial ambitions require us to make a break with the past. Surely you understand this?

Columbus remains silent, his features crestfallen. He clutches at the crucifix around his neck and rocks gently on his knee.

Ferdinand (Frustrated): You understand this necessity, Don Cristobal?

Columbus nods slowly.

Ferdinand (Claps his hands): Very well. A new beginning for our Spanish Indies! To be embellished by your future discoveries no doubt!

Isabella (Sympathetically): It was our lack of judgement that thrust you into a position in which your talents were wasted, Don Cristobal. Whilst it is customary for the discoverer to lay claim to the governorship of a new territory, it is not always the wisest ploy. Your energies have been best spent voyaging. You know that. Your long absences from Hispaniola prove that. It is your divine duty to discover new lands for this kingdom. This kingdom, which alone recognised the capacity of your talents! You need not fear your legacy, Cristobal. Your name will be a synonym for greatness in years to come!

Ferdinand (Optimistic): I have no doubt you shall find your treasured passage to the Orient, Don Cristobal. Moreover, the Seven Cities beckon! Imagine those golden citadels as part of a grand Spanish empire! Our Portuguese cousins shall have little cause to mock us then!

Columbus (Weakly): Your optimism pierces my pessimistic guard, your majesties. To retain your confidence in my exploratory abilities fills me with a renewed hope. Yet what of Hispaniola? It was my destiny! I had grand plans to shape its future! Plans that my son and future generations of my family would mould and develop!

Isabella: Your son is not proscribed from holding colonial office, Don Cristobal. But you fool yourself to think your destiny is entwined with a mere island. God has greater designs for you. It is disappointment with your failure that drives your resentment.

Columbus (Raised voice): And yet you shall persist with that fiend Bobadilla! That man who cares nothing of spiritual sanctity! Who knows nothing of it!

Ferdinand (Anger): Bobadilla deserves the same treatment as you, Cristobal! Whilst his loyalty has been brought into question, we must not be hasty in our judgements. Senor Ovando here shall be sent to the Indies to carry out an audit. If he deems Bobadilla to be in breach of his royal obligations, then he shall have him returned in irons.

Columbus (Examines his wrists): As I was.

Ferdinand (Smiles): Exactly.

Columbus, Bartolomé and Diego fall into silent discussion. Ovando steps forward in front of the throne.

Ovando (Delighted): Your majesties honour me with your patronage! A new adventure awaits me! I shall seek to serve with the same vigour and virtue I have always endeavoured to display!

Ferdinand: I hope our faith is rewarded this time.

Ovando: Do not fear, your majesty. My integrity is beyond doubt.

Ferdinand (Warily): I recall Bobadilla saying something similar. Nevertheless, it is your duty to investigate the current Governor’s intentions. You shall make preparations to sail immediately. Find a captain and organise your soldiers.

Isabella: And organise a priest. The spiritual degradation of that island and its inhabitants must not persist.

Ovando (Bows): Of course, your majesty.

Ferdinand: Remember, Ovando, you are not to prolong this voyage. Make haste to come to a sound conclusion with regards to Bobadilla and return at once. If you find him guilty of any misdemeanours then we shall look into you replacing him permanently. Then we can look into the hiring of labourers and such like…(He trails off)

Ovando (Slyly): I have no doubt that Senor Bobadilla’s intentions are nothing but honourable. A misunderstanding is afoot I would imagine.

Ferdinand: I leave you to make that judgement.

Deza: Pardon my intrusion, your majesty.

Ferdinand looks accusingly at Deza and begins to noisily tap his fingers on the arm of his throne. The bishop responds by raising his voice.

Deza: Though I have the utmost conviction that Senor Ovando is a trustworthy man, do you not think it prudent to take an independent judge to the Indies as a means of precaution? We have seen from experience the difficulties arising from colonial assessment; particularly when the assessor is a potential beneficiary from any judgement made.

Ferdinand (Tired): What are you hinting at, Father?

Deza (Moves to the foot of the steps): You trusted Bobadilla did you not?

Ferdinand: I had no reason not to.

Deza: Just as you trust Ovando?

Ferdinand: Yes. Pray hurry…

Deza (Interrupts): Then why should the same scenario not arise again? As Don Cristobal was removed by Bobadilla for personal gain, Ovando may act likewise.

Ovando (Angry): Just a second Father! How can someone of your stature accuse me so willingly?

Deza (Appeasing with hands out): I am not accusing you, sir. I merely wanted to highlight the corrupting nature of power, especially in lands where levels of accountability are low. By appointing an independent jurist of the Crown to aid you in your judgement of Bobadilla’s reign, you are insuring yourself against self-abuse.

Ovando eyes Deza warily but says nothing. Deza smiles before returning his attention to the throne.

Montalvo (Clearing his throat): Were you to approve of such a suggestion, your majesties, I would be a most willing accomplice to Senor Ovando.

Isabella (To Ferdinand): Perhaps the Father makes a valid point, Ferdinand.

Ferdinand (Dismissive): Nonsense! We are frequently presented with complaints against are over-bureaucratising of matters. The Royal Council would frown on such interference.

Isabella: I think not.

Ferdinand: We need Montalvo here, Isabella! This colony is not the only problem we face. We must still counter the opposition to the Unity; peasant agitation; are incorrigible debt! Let us carry out this final assessment before putting in place the changes we agreed upon.

Isabella: You mean the priests?

Ferdinand stands and descends the throne. Deza and Ovando step backwards cautiously

The priests, the labourers, anything you like! Whether it is under Bobadilla or Ovando I care little. I have a problem with neither man! Besides, it is the profitability of the colony that concerns me. That must be our focus of attention.

Isabella (Voice of resignation): Then it is settled. Senor Ovando shall conduct a thorough assessment of the colonial situation in Hispaniola under Senor Bobadilla. From his report we can set about making the necessary changes.

Ferdinand nods without replying.

Isabella: Montalvo has a requisition list for our colonial voyages.

Montalvo withdraws a parchment from a pile of letters and hands it to Ovando. They begin discussing it silently in the background, whilst Columbus, Bartolomé, and Diego come to the foreground.

Bartolomé (Exasperated): How can they deprive us of our gold?

Diego: I would refrain from mentioning that gold in the bishop’s company, brother.

Columbus (Intrigued): Why so?

Diego (Shoots a glance at Bartolomé): Well…you know the Church’s view on material wealth Cristobal. Their appreciation of golden lustre is tempered somewhat by pious intentions.

Bartolomé (Sarcastically): Have you not visited the Vatican before?

Diego: Mere signs of divine splendour…

Columbus (Woeful): Their majesties have forsaken me! Could they not see through the shroud of dishonesty? Bobadilla has destroyed my ambitions! He shall be made to pay!

Diego (Holds Columbus’s arm): This is no time for planning revenge, Cristobal. We must leave here at once. Before any more great revelations are made!

Columbus (Looks skywards): Oh but I shall be avenged brother! We shall be avenged! Our Lord God, in his divine wisdom, shall smite that fiend down! He shall call the elements to his aid and drown that sorry island and its corruption!

Diego (Annoyed): You cannot persist with this self-righteousness Cristobal! Whatever Bobadilla has done, we are no innocent players. Accept their majesties’ judgement!

Bartolomé (Continued sarcasm): He is right, Cristobal. One must accept those who decide the absolute truths, whether they be correct or not.

Diego: Do not preach, Bartolomé, it does not become you. There are no truthful parties here! It shall be left to God to decide our separate fates. And I think you know what that means!

Columbus (Stands back from Bartolomé and Diego): Of what are you not informing me?

There is a pause

Diego (Brightly): At least you look forward to another voyage, Cristobal. You always said the Orient would be found by the Western route. Now is your chance to prove it!

Columbus: But where am I to reconnoitre without access to Hispaniola?

Diego (Shrugs): Discover new lands to stop at. Tame some of the Carib islands; their inhabitants are but barbarians after all.

Bartolomé (Petulantly): I am taking no part in another fruitless enterprise! I am happy on land! If a return to Hispaniola is impossible then our gold shall never be salvaged! Why should I waste my time at sea?

Diego (Takes Bartolomé aside): Pray silence Bartolomé. You shall raise his suspicions also.

Bartolomé: He is too naive to notice it! All he cares about is his divine destiny!

Diego (Returns to Columbus): There is always the possibility of an African voyage. Why not travel east?

Columbus (Surprised): And switch my allegiance? No. Their majesties may have removed Hispaniola from me but they value my loyalty nonetheless. Besides, it was they who had faith in me all those years past. I offered the Portuguese my services and they declined. There is nothing left for me to discover in Africa! I am duty-bound to this new Spanish Kingdom.

Diego shrugs. Deza walks over to them.

Deza (Smiling): A satisfactory conclusion would you not say?

Columbus (Tamely): Indeed Father. Let me thank you once more for your kind entreaties. Without you I would have been consigned to banishment. (He kneels to kiss Deza’s ring)

Deza (Withdraws his hand): You have your brothers to thank, Cristobal. It was they who revealed to me the deceit of Senor Bobadilla. (He turns on Bartolomé and Diego) Their conviction forced me into an action I was reluctant to take! They are pious men, just as their brother!

Bartolomé and Diego remain silent and look guiltily away.

Columbus (Imploring): But what of my island, Father?

Deza: The final judgement has been passed, Cristobal. Leave it at that. Your fate rests with God now. (He looks at Bartolomé and Diego again)

In the meantime, several servants have entered the hall to supply goblets of wine to the congregation. The final chalices are passed to Columbus and Deza.

Ferdinand (Standing): Now we have drawn a satisfactory conclusion under this trying affair, let us celebrate our future prosperity! (Raises his goblet)To this glorious realm and our colonies; to our faithful servants present in this hall, I pray for success!

Isabella (Also stands): Perhaps the Father will first lead us in a prayer.

Ferdinand throws up his hands but eventually lowers his chalice.

Deza (Walks towards the throne): Of course, your majesty.

As Deza begins to recite the Lord’s Prayer, Columbus wanders aimlessly to the front of the stage.

Columbus (To the audience): So it has been settled. I am to be known to history as an explorer; a discoverer of great lands! That is my divine calling! (He pauses)But will anyone recall my governorship? Will anyone study my great plans? (Pause) How will you remember me?

A hearty cheer is raised in the background as the prayer is concluded. Columbus continues to stare forward into the audience.

The curtain falls.

 

Advertisements

Author: Stefan Lang

An interested observer of current affairs, researcher and writer

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s