The Manuscript of Juan Serrano
On his last South American voyage Professor Osten-Seckher, the renowned explorer of the upper Amazon jungle and of the bordering Peruvian Andes, made a most remarkable discovery. He succeeded in finding an old manuscript in the remote and difficult to reach cloister of Santa Esperanza somewhere in the heights of Mont-Blanc. It gave information on one of the many heroes that in ancient times helped in the discovery and conquest of the earth. It was written by Juan Serrano, one of the participants in Magellan’s first circumnavigation of the earth, and of whose end nothing had been known up to now.
It was only known that he appeared on the beach of the island of Zubu after a bloody feast in which the other participants were slaughtered, and that he pleaded with his companions, who had remained on ship, “for the sake of God and the Holy Virgin”, to pay his ransom so that he might be released from the savages. But even though he, wounded, covered with blood, tightly bound, and clothed only with a shirt was such a pathetic sight, and even though the ransom price of two rifles, two bars of metal and a length of rope could have been achieved, the commander Juan Carvajo, refused to free him and gave the command to set sail.
Pigasetta, whom we have to thank for a diary about Magellan’s voyage, thought that Carvajo left Serrano in the hands of the savages so that he would not have to turn over the command to his captain again; but perhaps it was also because he feared further betrayal from the islanders.
In the preliminary remarks it can be noticed that this took place on May 1, 1521 and that a few days earlier—on April 27—Magellan, on the island of Matan, near Zubu, lost his own life under the spears and howls of savages.
Professor Osten-Seckher was not able to find out how the manuscript of Juan Serrano came to the cloister of Santa Esperanza. One might be permitted to assume that some Spanish sailor at a later time found the manuscript with some natives and was permitted to bring it back from South America, where it came into the possession of the cloister at Santa Esperanze.
And now let us read the manuscript itself in the best possible translation as follows:
“In the name of God the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen.
I, Juan Serrano, first captain of the ‘Santiago’ and then later the ‘Concepcion’, write these lines in the face of impending death, without hope that it might ever be read by any of my countrymen. If, by God’s grace, and through a miracle, my manuscript should ever be read by a Spaniard or a Portuguese (against whom I carry no grudge, especially since I am Portuguese from birth), he might be able to glean from it how much the devil is able to achieve in the temptation of us poor sinners; how weak we are and how strange our lives and deaths may be. And then perhaps he might say a prayer for my poor soul, if at all possible in the church of Maria de la Victoria de Triana in Sevilla, where Magellan received the royal standard from out of the hands of Sancho Martinez de Leiva.
After the slaughter of my companions through the betrayal of the king of Zubu I was led to the beach, but even though I pleaded and begged as strongly as I could, they would not pay my ransom, and I had to watch, as my companions set sail and turned the bow of their ship away from land. And this happened, even though Juan Carvajo was my godson and he had sworn with upraised hands on the memory of his mother and on the wounds of Christ, that he would not deliver me to certain death on this island. When I saw that my pleas were not able to make them come back, I fell into a terrible rage and despair and began to curse Spain, my companions, and myself; and I asked God, if He on the earliest Day of Judgment would hold Juan Carvao accountable for the condition of my soul. And I also hoped that my curse might soon bring sickness and death to this horrible and criminal man, my godson.
So I remained behind alone on the island of Zubu and was once more led into the village by my captors, so their king could decide what to do with me. And there was a large crowd of people around me, of women and children, who threw dirt, shells and stones at me, beating my face and forehead bloody. I was determined to show these people that I was not afraid, was prepared to die, and walked upright between my guards. So we came to the large hut of the king, where the banquet had been arranged and where we had been captured.
A number of stakes had been driven into the earth around the hut, and the bodies of my companions had been impaled upon their tips. As we entered I saw the king lounging on his bed and near him was a human body lying stretched out on the ground. In passing I recognized Duarte Barbosa, who like me had only been wounded in the capture.
The body of my companion was cut open, so that I could see the inside of his belly and intestines. The king kept putting both hands into the body cavity, tearing out fistfuls of fat and shoving it into his mouth. But Duarte Barbosa was still alive and moaned and whimpered so pitifully; and as he looked at me, he begged me by all the saints and eternal salvation, to kill him. But he could just as well have been begging a stone or a rafter in the hut, because my hands were tied and there was even another rope tied around my arms, which was tied so tightly that I thought my shoulders would pop out of their joints.
I really can’t leave it unmentioned that Duarte Barbosa himself had inflamed the hatred of the savages—which I must call them, even though they have all received the holy baptism—by much too strongly chasing after the women of the island, as was his way, and they had been much too willing as well. This rage of the savages had not broken out before because Magellan had kept them subdued with his look and his words.
In the meantime the king turned to me and said a few words in his language. Then Henrique, Magellan’s slave from Malakka, stepped up. He had followed his master from Portugal and Spain and after that almost all around the entire earth until he was once more near his homeland; but after Magellan’s death he had fallen away from us.
Henrique, who understood the language of the Zubu and served as our translator, translated the words of the king to me, in which he said, that I could see from the behavior of my companions how disloyal and traitorous a people the Spaniards were, and that they had left me behind out of fear of him. That irritated me and I contradicted him, again through the mouth of Henrique, and said that he himself had given the worst example of disloyalty and betrayal, when he had sworn an oath to Magellan, to be obedient and subservient to the king of Spain. He had through God’s gracious providence received holy baptism and renounced his former pagan name, Rajah Humabon, and replaced it with the proud name ‘Carlo’ after our royal majesty; which he himself afterwards appeared entirely unworthy of; so much so that I could do nothing else, despite his baptism, than consider him a despicable heathen and idolater.
At that the king only grimaced and replied that his royal majesty Karl V was of no concern to him. He did not care and I only had to look over at my companion, Duarte Barbosa, to see what was going to happen to me next. Then he clapped his hands and two girls entered. They were only clothed with little skirts of leaves around their hips and wore veils on their heads. One of them held a knife of stone in her hand and slowly danced around the bloody body of Duarte Barbosa, until the king gave a signal, at which she knelt down and plunged the blade of her knife into the heart of the poor man. His whimpering immediately ceased, and I offered up a prayer in the name of my patron, as thanks, that Barbosa was finally released from his suffering.
I was led out of the hut. As I passed the stakes with the bodies of my companions I counted and found that there were twenty one of them. It immediately occurred to me that one was missing. Twenty seven of us had come ashore and of these Juan Carvajo and the ship’s master-at-arms had immediately returned because they didn’t trust these creatures. Henrique had gone over to the enemies; Barbosa still lay in the hut; I was still alive, and apparently the twenty second must be as well.
I didn’t have time to notice or determine anything else because I was quickly led past and thrown into a hut, where they tied me so tightly to a post that the blood was soon oozing from out of my skin.
Toward evening the so called Henrique again came to me, sat down across from me and began to tell me how they were going to kill me and how much the population of this entire island would enjoy this celebration. At that his eyes glowed so terribly and his features became so distorted, that it seemed as if Satan himself was looking at me. And then he told me, how he, with the help of the four remaining kings of Zubu, had arranged the treachery and given Rajah Humabon counsel; and how happy he was to finally have his revenge for being taken away from his homeland and for his enslavement. That was when I realized, that this slave as well, even though he had long since been baptized and wore a Christian name, was nothing other than another heathen.
He left me at night fall, and two girls came into the hut; the first was the one that had killed Duarte Barbosa. They sat to the left and to the right of me with their stone knives in their hands, and I understood that they were designated as my guards. But in front of the hut I could still hear the voices of the men and knew they were being very careful to prevent an escape. But I was so weak from the loss of so much blood, from a blow over the head which I had received, one that had nearly crushed my skull, that I could not even once think about making an attempt for my freedom. Because I was so weak I soon fell asleep despite my bounds, and a good dream showed me the beautiful city of Sevilla, and I went with Donna Mercedes across to the church of Santa Maria de la Victoria: once Donna Mercedes lifted her hand and caressed me so softly and lovingly over my face, that I became highly confused and wondered why she did this.
But then I awoke from harsh screams like the screeching of a giant bird, and as I came to my senses, I noticed two things; that these screeches were coming from above my head at the top of the hut and that a soft and warm hand was still lovingly caressing my face. But there was so much darkness in the hut that I could not make out whose hands they belonged to, except that it must belong to one of my guards, because no one other than a woman was able to caress so softly and lovingly.
Meanwhile the cries from the roof continued and they were such horrible and uncanny screeches that the dogs around the hut became entirely panicked and began to howl as if in fear. It was not long before the caressing stopped, and both girls spoke to each other in the darkness, then they began a soft singing that penetrated miraculously into my heart, strengthened my soul like a sweet refreshment and almost drove tears into my eyes. As the screeches on the roof became silent and only this song continued, a deep sleep soon came over me and didn’t leave until the light of morning.
With sunrise my guards left and in their place came four of the king’s warriors with lances and clubs, who tested my bonds, to see if they had loosened. Henrique brought me some bread and a roasted hen, which he pushed into my mouth piece by piece, so that I could eat and regain my strength, in order, as he said, to prolong my death, which he again described in a horrible way. I ate and refused to give him any response when he once more inquired if I knew where the priest Pedro de Valderrama was hiding, who to his memory had also come ashore. But my thoughts were only directed toward the night that was coming soon and was waiting to see if it would bring any more soft caresses and comforting songs.
With nightfall the darkness came again along with both girls and their stone knives, then the warriors left, so I thought that it must be the custom with these heathens, and it occurred to me that my two guards were perhaps some type of priestesses, like those in many of the tribes in the lands that the Portuguese had discovered.
But they only spoke with each other and didn’t even look at me. After they had sat down to my left and to my right, the one on my right prepared a drink for me, which she mixed together from various vessels. She said something over it and then they both drank as well.
I was determined not to fall asleep, so that I could find out which of them was friendly towards me. But I had to wait a long time, until midnight, before I felt a hand on my arm. Slowly the hand slid up to my neck, and I sensed once more the coldness of the stone knife on my throat, so that I was terribly frightened and realized that I was to die in the darkness. But the knife cut the rope that lay around my neck and made it difficult to breathe and to swallow. Then the ropes around my arms and legs were cut so that I was once more free. But I didn’t move, because I thought, this same hand that had freed me, would give me a signal of what I had to do.