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Gulf of Cadiz, Spanish Coast
The wind was from the southwest as the fishing boat Estrella del Este approached the mouth of the Guadalquivir River. On their right stood the town of Sanlucar de Barrameda, at which the great ships of the flota, the Spanish treasure fleet, were loaded and unloaded. On their left, the crew could see the salt marshes and sand dunes of Las Marismas.
The Estrella was not new to the trade, its paint bright and ironwork gleaming, a puppy barking as its master took it out hunting for the first time. Nor was it an old boat, its paint flaked off, its hull patched up again and again, an old hound which wearily rose to its feet when its master called it to the door. It was middle-aged . . . not unlike its captain.
Captain Luis stood at the prow, his hand shading his eyes as he studied the water ahead of him. From time to time he called instructions to his son, who held the tiller. They looked much alike. Each wore a feathered red wool bonete, a brown linen shirt with a hood further covering ears and chin, and over it a sea-blue jacket tied at the waist. Below the waist they wore baggy trousers and leather shoes. While both were olive-skinned, beardless, and shorter than the other fishermen on board, the son was a bit taller than the father, and he had his mother's eyes.
The fishing boat passed easily over the sandbar at the mouth. The same could not be said of the galleons of the flota. They needed the guidance of the bar pilots of Sanlucar to find the ever-shifting deep channel, and even then, each year at least one galleon ran aground.
Luis and his crew were done with fishing for this trip, but the same was not true of the terns and gulls that incessantly patrolled the river. The river turned north, and their boat, Estrella, turned with it. They passed a salt pan. Some hunter, human or animal, invisible to Luis, startled the flamingos that were feeding on shellfish there and they rose all at once, reminding Luis of paper kites taking to the air.
Their destination was their home, the little town of Coria del Rio. It was perhaps eighteen leagues upriver from Sanlucar, and less than three downriver from the great city of Seville. While only ships of not more than three hundred tons could sail as far as Seville, the city was nonetheless the hub of the Indies trade. There, on the steps of its cathedral, captains and masters recruited their crews for voyages to the Americas, to Africa, to the Levant, or even to the Spice Islands. There, too, in part of the old Moorish palace, was the Casa de Contratación de Indias, the House of Trade with the Indies, which granted licenses to ships and crew, appointed the admiral and chief pilot of the flota, collected the king's share of the proceeds of trade, and searched the returning ships for contraband.
As the Estrella continued its progress upriver, Luis remained vigilant. There were many sandy shallows on the Guadalquivir, not to mention the sunken hulks of galleons that had been wrecked on those shallows; a merchant vessel drawing more than four or five codos would take a full week to travel from Sanlucar to Seville, or back. The more lightly laden Estrella could travel much faster, if the wind was fair, but even it had to worry about snags.
Most of the fishermen of Coria del Rio contented themselves with river catch—shrimp, or perhaps albur de estero. But Luis was more venturesome and went into the storm- and corsair-plagued waters of the Gulf of Cadiz for tuna, swordfish, and other delicacies. They kept these alive in floating fish baskets trailing the Estrella. Of course, these had to be hauled in close whenever they rounded a snag.
Coria del Rio
Luis and his crew tied up the Estrella at the little dock in Coria, and carried most of the catch to the local fish market, which was only a few yards away. There was haggling, of course, but Luis dealt with the same man every week, and they knew the steps of the dance, both lead and follow. They shook hands at last and shared a cup of cheap wine to seal the deal. It was time for Luis to head home.
As a boat captain, rather than a mere hand, Luis had a house of his own. It was just one story, and made of whitewashed mud-brick covered with red roof tiles, but at least it wasn't a mere hut, or shared with other families. This being Andalusia, it was square, with a central patio, which all of the rooms opened onto. A good part of the patio was devoted to his wife's vegetable garden, where she grew artichokes and asparagus.
Luis was carrying one prize specimen, a large swordfish, that he had saved for his family. His wife looked up when he came in the door of their common room.
"Hello, I have brought dinner home for us, and I have coin, too. Our son has gone off with his friends, so we will eat without him."
She came over and hugged him, "Welcome home. I will fry that up."
As she prepared their meal, Luis relaxed in his chair. The walls of their common room were adorned, like any Spanish home, with crosses and religious pictures. Only a discerning eye would notice that several of these came from far away—from Madrid, from Genoa, even from Rome and Mexico City. They were, in fact, souvenirs of his travels.
The village of Coria del Rio was home mostly to farmers and fishermen. Most of the farmers had never even gone as far as Seville. Most of the fishermen lived off the river, not the sea.
But Luis—Luis do Japon—had crossed two oceans. Two decades ago, he had gone by the name of Kinzo. He had been a samurai, a retainer of the great daimyo Date Masamune. Date Masamune had given sanctuary to the Franciscan friar Luis Sotelo. Kinzo had been one of the Date clan samurai converted by Sotelo, and had taken the Christian name "Luis" in his honor. And Sotelo had taught Luis Latin and Spanish.
Consequently, Luis do Japon had been chosen to be a member of the honor guard of Date Masamune's emissary to Spain and the Pope, Hasekura Rokuemon Tsunenaga. The Hasekura embassy arrived in Seville in October 1614, and went on to visit Madrid, Rome, and many other cities. But by the time they returned to Seville in 1616, grim news had arrived from the Far East: In January 1614, all Christian missionaries were ordered to leave the "country of the kamis and the buddhas," and it was made illegal for a samurai to be a Christian.
In 1617, the news was no better, but Lord Hasekura decided that it would be better to wait in Manila, close to home, than in Seville. He sailed west, but Luis was one of six Japanese who Hasekura ordered to stay in Spain, and "behave as good Catholics."
Friar Sotelo was ordered to return to New Spain. Friar Sotelo's brother, Don Diego de Cabrera, had wine and oil warehouses in Coria del Rio so, needing to settle the six Japanese somewhere, the friar arranged lodgings for them there, where his brother could keep an eye on them.
De Cabrera warned them that the authorities looked with suspicion on long-term foreign residents who were not married to Spanish women, and they took the hint. Luis married, and now had a teenage son and daughter.
If his wife's family had hoped that by this marriage connection, they might eventually profit from Spanish trade with Japan, those hopes had not been realized. In 1624, the Shogun banned the Spanish, because the merchants smuggled in missionaries. There was still trade between Macao and Nagasaki, but that was controlled by the Portuguese. And of course, his family would have nothing to do with the Dutch heretics.
Nonetheless, the marriage had prospered, and some of his wife's relatives were now merchants in Seville, with small investments in the flota trade. And Luis visited them when he had business in the city.
Triana suburb, Seville
As Luis do Japon walked along La Calle Larga, the main street of the Triana district, he became conscious that something was wrong. People stopped speaking as he approached, drew away as he came nigh, stared at him as he passed. One even made a sign to avert the evil eye.
Like every Spanish townsman, he walked the streets armed with a sword and knife. Unlike them, he carried the two swords of his former samurai rank, the katana and the shorter wakizashi, as well as a tanto, a dagger.
He surreptitiously made sure that they were all loose in their scabbards, and continued on, his head turning subtly back and forth to make sure that no one was following him with ill intent.
A fraction of his attention went to trying to decipher the reason for the hostility, as it might tell him who to be wary of. Did the fishermen of the Triana resent the intrusion of one from Coria del Rio? If so, it was vexing; he wasn't even here to sell fish, but rather to get supplies that were available more cheaply in Seville than anywhere else.
A roof tile whizzed past his head. He dove into a stall, shouldered past those standing inside, and went out the back.
Luis remembered that one of his wife's brothers lived a couple of streets over, closer than the chandler that was his original destination. He went there quickly and cautiously and knocked on the door.
"Who is it?" came a voice.
"Your brother-in-law, Luis. Let me in, in the name of God."