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Chapter VII 


They discover the relics. Their apprehension of the Galles. The author converts a criminal, and procures his pardon.

We took with us an old Moor, so enfeebled with age that they were forced to carry him: he had seen, as I have said, the sufferings and death of Don Christopher de Gama; and a Christian, who had often heard all those passages related to his father, and knew the place where the uncle and nephew of Mahomet were buried, and where they interred one quarter of the Portuguese martyr. We often examined these two men, and always apart; they agreed in every circumstance of their relations, and confirmed us in our belief of them by leading us to the place where we took up the uncle and nephew of Mahomet, as they had described. With no small labour we removed the heap of stones which the Moors, according to their custom, had thrown upon the body, and discovered the treasure we came in search of. Not many paces off was the fountain where they had thrown his head, with a dead dog, to raise a greater aversion in the Moors. I gathered the teeth and the lower jaw. No words can express the ecstasies I was transported with at seeing the relics of so great a man, and reflecting that it had pleased God to make me the instrument of their preservation, so that one day, if our holy father the Pope shall be so pleased, they may receive the veneration of the faithful. All burst into tears at the sight. We indulged a melancholy pleasure in reflecting what that great man had achieved for the deliverance of Abyssinia, from the yoke and tyranny of the Moors; the voyages he had undertaken; the battles he had fought; the victories he had won; and the cruel and tragical death he had suffered. Our first moments were so entirely taken up with these reflections that we were incapable of considering the danger we were in of being immediately surrounded by the Galles; but as soon as we awoke to that thought, we contrived to retreat as fast as we could. Our expedition, however, was not so great but we saw them on the top of a mountain ready to pour down upon us. The viceroy attended us closely with his little army, but had been probably not much more secure than we, his force consisting only of foot, and the Galles entirely of horse, a service at which they are very expert. Our apprehensions at last proved to be needless, for the troops we saw were of a nation at that time in alliance with the Abyssins.

Not caring, after this alarm, to stay longer here, we set out on our march back, and in our return passed through a village where two men, who had murdered a domestic of the viceroy, lay under an arrest. As they had been taken in the fact, the law of the country allowed that they might have been executed the same hour, but the viceroy having ordered that their death should be deferred till his return, delivered them to the relations of the dead, to be disposed of as they should think proper. They made great rejoicings all the night, on account of having it in their power to revenge their relation; and the unhappy criminals had the mortification of standing by to behold this jollity, and the preparations made for their execution.

The Abyssins have three different ways of putting a criminal to death: one way is to bury him to the neck, to lay a heap of brambles upon his head, and to cover the whole with a great stone; another is to beat him to death with cudgels; a third, and the most usual, is to stab him with their lances. The nearest relation gives the first thrust, and is followed by all the rest according to their degrees of kindred; and they to whom it does not happen to strike while the offender is alive, dip the points of their lances in his blood to show that they partake in the revenge. It frequently happens that the relations of the criminal are for taking the like vengeance for his death, and sometimes pursue this resolution so far that all those who had any share in the prosecution lose their lives.

I being informed that these two men were to die, wrote to the viceroy for his permission to exhort them, before they entered into eternity, to unite themselves to the Church. My request being granted, I applied myself to the men, and found one of them so obstinate that he would not even afford me a hearing, and died in his error. The other I found more flexible, and wrought upon him so far that he came to my tent to be instructed. After my care of his eternal welfare had met with such success, I could not forbear attempting something for his temporal, and by my endeavours matters were so accommodated that the relations were willing to grant his life on condition he paid a certain number of cows, or the value. Their first demand was of a thousand; he offered them five; they at last were satisfied with twelve, provided they were paid upon the spot. The Abyssins are extremely charitable, and the women, on such occasions, will give even their necklaces and pendants, so that, with what I gave myself, I collected in the camp enough to pay the fine, and all parties were content.

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