Saturday, October 5, 1450 Baliera, Porto Santo, Madeira Archipelago
Dom Bartolomeu Perestrello, Governor and Captain Donatario of Porto Santo, Master of the Order of Santiago, explorer and knight of the court of the Infante Henrique, stood at a window on the second floor of his residence looking out at the sea. The stone structure sat on a bluff above the harbor of Baliera, the only town on the island of Porto Santo. He watched as a fleet of carracks and caravels bobbed at anchor, each flying the flag of Portugal and the colors of their masters. He knew every ship, every captain, and every master. He knew most of every crew. He had sailed with many, and in one way or another, had worked with nearly all of them. Today, the day of his wedding to Donna Isabel Moniz, the nobility of Portuguese exploration had gathered to celebrate with one of their own.
Turning away from the window he watched with pride as his new son suckled from his wet nurse Baba’s breast. After years of trying with two other wives, he finally had an heir. Little Bartolomeu would inherit the estate, the titles, the grant from the king, and the island when his father’s journey was finished.
“Have patience, little one. We will share much before that day.”
He stroked the back of his son’s head and walked out of the nursery. The large, two story house was built in the shape of a fat ‘T’ and the nursery was upstairs at the very end of the long stem. Next to the nursery were his private quarters, where Isabel was preparing herself. He could have walked directly into the rooms through the narrow door, but his new bride did not want him to see her before she was ready. Instead, he passed through the new playroom and onto the balcony that marked the beginning of the public section of the house. Most of the furniture, and the desks of the clerks, had been moved out of the spacious foyer to make room for the guests who would soon be arriving. The creak and clank of hinges caught his attention, echoing through the empty room as the double oaken front doors swung open.
“Governor! Wake up, Velho.” Two elegantly dressed gentlemen stepped through the doorway.
“Old man? Both of you are as old as my father! Come in, come in. Zarco, Tristão, have some wine with me.”
Bartolomeu walked down the stairway and joined the two men. Together they went to the back of the entrance foyer and into his office. He poured out three glasses of wine produced from the vineyard Zarco had started on Madeira Island.
“To past adventures and fresh winds!” The three toasted each other and sipped the wine.
“At last, you have a son.” The oldest of the men lifted his glass to Bartolomeu. “You should already be feeling the satisfaction of that. Your family now has a future as well as a past.”
João Gonçalves Zarco and Tristão Vaz Teixeira were Bartolomeu’s oldest friends. Together the three had discovered and settled Porto Santo and the other islands in the Madeira group more than thirty years earlier. Now Bartolomeu was Governor of Porto Santo and Zarco and Teixeira split the larger, much more profitable island of Madeira between them. Each was honored by the King and respected among their fellow explorers and adventurers.
“Today is a very important day for all of us. You are marrying my granddaughter. This will officially unite the Teixeira and Perestrella as family. You have received my part of her dowry?” Tristão poured himself another wine as he spoke.
“Yes. Yes. Come, let me show you.”
Bartolomeu led the two into his library through the door that connected it to his office. Four large windows on the western wall lit the room with the afternoon sun. On the three remaining walls were a series of wooden bins. Built as boxes stacked one on the other, the bins were two feet deep and a foot high. They completely covered all of the available wall space from floor to ceiling and from edge to edge. Each box-like bin was marked by a brass nameplate and held clusters of rolled parchments. In the center of the room was a heavy oak table with a dozen or more parchments scattered loosely on it. Several crates, some open, some still nailed closed, sat in no apparent order around the room.
“I have already begun to organize them and set them in their places.” He picked up one of the scrolls on the table and unrolled it.
“This is the chart of your first voyage to Porto Santo. I will put it in this bin marked ‘New Islands’. I have bins for new lands in Africa, for new routes to old lands in the north, and for old routes to lands around the Roman sea, and to France, Britain, and the cities of the Hanse. All are entered in this ledger.” He pointed to a thick, leather-bound bundle of parchment.
Both of his guests had visited the library many times. They had come here often to help minor captains of their own fleets chart courses for more profitable voyages. Bartolomeu’s library was becoming famous, and some thought it rivaled the library at Sagres. It already held more charts for the new lands than the old school in Majorca or the Monastery at La Rabidad.
“It is a most gracious gift, and the charts will be prized by my son in his time. Come, my friends. Walk with me to the church. We have contracts to sign.”
Outside on the plaza workmen were assembling tables for the feast. The governor’s residence was one of three buildings that opened onto the plaza. To the west, looking out toward the sea, was the white stucco Church of Our Lady of Pity. On the north edge of the square, facing the residence, was the Cofradia, the center of business activity on the island. In front of the Cofradia a tent had been erected for a kitchen, and now lambs were roasting on spits, kettles of stews were bubbling, and iron skillets were heating for the hasha, the flat bread that would accompany the meats. The aromas of salt cod simmering with lemons, olives and chick peas, braised rabbit with saffron and rice, and of garlicky conger eel stew, spread out from the tent, drawing an ever growing crowd.