whumptober2021, day 16: aftermath
He sees it as their boat comes closer to the shore.
He does not takes his eyes away from it as their men pull the boat into the beach, as Portugal and the Governor of Goa step out into the shallows, as his own Governor of Surat welcomes them into the city.
Portugal stands by his Governor’s side, his arm immobilized, half of his face covered in bandages, his visible eye sunken, tired, glowing with anger. The two government officials make small talk. England does not even listen.
The two move to walk back to his Governor’s house, where he had ordered that dinner be prepared for his guests.
He stands in Portugal’s way and both of they stay behind. Portugal glaring at him with his one uncovered eye.
“Did…” he starts, swallows, his eyes lost on the myriad of bruises and cuts and abrasions he can see now that they are closer. “Did one of mine do this?” he asks quietly, lifts his hand, hovers it over the sling that protects his arm.
Portugal pulls away from his touch. “Ned’s,” he says and the dry tone he uses to utter that single word sounds harsher than if he had yelled the name. England searches his face.
Portugal does not wait for him to finish. He sidesteps him and follows along the dock in the direction their Governors had gone to. England closes his hand, still hovering in the air, into a fist.
Dinner is a formal affair. He glances at Portugal as the food is served, but mostly he focuses on the discussion between the two officials. The agreement that the English would stop harassing Iberian shipping, especially Portuguese shipping, has already been drafted and will be signed later over cognac, but, in the meanwhile, the two talk about other matters as well.
The on-going war between the Spanish and the Dutch in Europe. The decline of maritime trade. Dutch incursions against Portuguese Malacca.
The Governor of Goa smiles at his Governor’s prying questions, and deviates the subject when it comes too close to the state secrets under his protection. The Governor of Surat lets his eyes linger on Portugal, and complies. Both skirting around the elephant in the room, dancing with each other throughout the night.
“You understand, of course,” he overhears the Governor of Surat say to his counterpart, both men leaning on the big open windows of the manor, watching the waves at the distant beach. “That none of this is strictly speaking ‘official’.”
“Of course,” the Governor of Goa says and raises his glass.
“There would be no need for any of this if Portugal were an independent nation…” his Governor’s voice trails off, and the Portuguese Governor sighs. England looks at Portugal sitting stiffly by the door, nursing his own drink and staring at the bottom of his glass.
“Do you want a refill?” he asks, walking closer to him, leaving the older gentlemen to their quiet conversation. Portugal shakes his head without looking up, his lips pursed. England sits on a chair near his, watches for his signs of discomfort at the proximity and relaxes when he finds none. “I hear the Portuguese garrison was able to rebut the attacks on the Malaccan fortress.”
“I don’t want to talk.”
He bites his cheek, looks away, drinks his cognac.
By the window their Governors talk like old friends. He cannot help the bitter taste of irony that sits on his tongue.
He looks over at Portugal again. All he sees is his bandaged profile. A fine stubble that covers his jaw, his tanned skin after months and years sailing to this part of the world. Over one knee he holds his glass, only a shrunken layer of amber covering the bottom. And on his lap, held between his thumb and forefinger, an old St. George’s medallion, which he rubs absentmindedly.
“It needs a good polish,” he comments lightly, ignoring the way his heart skips, how his hands itch.
Portugal turns the medallion in his fingers. “It almost got me killed,” he says pensively, quietly. “Almost lost an eye trying to get it back.”
He looks at the bandages around his head and swallows. He has words he wants to say, things that he wants to share, ideas, thoughts that have crept up on him during these last fifty years since the Spanish King inherited the Portuguese throne. But it all clogs at the base of his throat. Heavy and sticky.
He would rather have Portugal yell at him. Explode in his face for every Portuguese carrack the English sunk and pillaged and stole. He would rather have him angry and loud so that England could yell back in his face. Tell him of every bit of resentment he still keeps in his heart, of every night spent awake, thinking of where everything had gone wrong.
Instead they had this, they had now. They had all of this heavy silence that sat in the narrow space between their chairs.
“Here,” Portugal says and puts the medallion on his hand, downs the rest of his drink. “You can have it.”
It feels warm. Both St. George and the dragon blackened with soot, the chain attached to it broken at the clasp. Portugal gets up from his chair with difficulty, the side of his mouth he can see twists downwards in a grimace.
His Governor looks back at them and acquiesces to his silent request, says his good-byes to the Governor of Surat, finishes his drink.
England is still staring at the medallion in his hand, feeling his chin tremble, a burn rising from his clogged throat to his eyes.
“It was gift, Port,” he whispers quietly.
“Then throw it into the ocean. I don’t care.”
The Governor of Goa helps him out of the room, he and his Governor offer each other safe passage in their respective waters and ports, their unfinished plans for more dinners linger in the air.
He watches his friend limp out of the Governor’s manor. Closes his hand around the medallion. Cries when the door closes after they leave.
After the death of King Sebastian I, Portugal fell into a succession crisis and Philip II of Spain inherited the Portuguese throne, joining the two countries into the Iberian Union (1580-1640). During this time, both England and the Dutch preyed on Portuguese and Spanish shipping, especially in the Indian Ocean in order to control the spice trade.
In 1629 the Aceh Sultanate sent a few hundred ships to take back Portuguese Malacca, but the mission failed. Malacca would only leave Portuguese rule in 1641, after the Aceh allied forces with the Johor Sultanate and the Dutch, allowing the Dutch to expand their influence and power over the region (present-day Indonesia).
In 1630, the Governors of Goa and Surat met and agreed to stop hostilities between their two navies. The English by this point had already taken over the base in Hormuz and had replaced Portugal as the dominant power in the Indian subcontinent.