A Selection From Book Four of Set All Afire: A Novel about Saint Francis Xavier | Louis de Wohl | Ignatius Insight
A ship, a small merchantman, built at Goa, and serving the coastal route. The pepper ship, they called it, because it brought pepper from Cochin to Goa, pepper, that most precious article. The whole of the Portuguese Empire of the Indies was built on pepper. There were other spices, of course, and there was silk from the faraway, unapproachable land called China—unapproachable because every foreigner trying to land there was instantly killed, according to the standing orders of the Emperor. But pepper was the main thing.
Francis and his three Tamil students were the only passengers. He almost wept as Goa vanished in the mists of the morning sun. Somehow the rumor of his departure had got around and a huge crowd had come to see him off, Father Almeida and Father Campo and other priests, Violante Ferreira with her nice young daughter, both in tears, Father Diogo de Borba of course, with all his students, and hundreds and hundreds of others; they upset the entire traffic near the port. And as the ship left, they had sung the Credo, rhymed as he had taught it to the children. How they loved singing, these joyful people. They sang when they plowed their fields, sang when they worked on the wharves. And there were the children, his children, tossing hibiscus flowers at the ship, bobbing up and down ....
Leaving them was a kind of dying. And now started the voyage to purgatory.
Father de Borba had told him a good deal about the Paravas, and no one could have given him better information. Eight years ago Father de Borba had been there himself, in the course of the War of the Ear.
Every girl child on the Pearl Fisher Coast had the lobes of her tiny ears pierced. Little leaden weights were inserted into the ears and these weights were gradually increased, till at last they were large enough for the enormous earrings that would be put in on the day of the girl's marriage. They were the sign of the married state and a Parava woman's pride and badge of rank and dignity.
An uncouth, greedy Moslem trader—one of the many who cheated the poor pearl fishers out of their goods, won by so much effort and under constant danger from sharks and stingrays—tore such a ring off the ear of a young Parava woman, tearing her earlobe at the same time. Outraged, the Paravas killed him and everyone of his kind they could lay their hands on. Then came the armed feluccas to burn down the Parava villages and the pearl fishers asked for Portuguese protection.
And Dom Martini de Sousa, Gran Capitan of the Seas, arrived with his fleet. Francis had heard the story from Marcello, but Father de Borba had a few things to add. He and a few Franciscans had gone ashore with the troops, and the priests—numbering no more than six— had baptized twenty thousand natives. They tried to instruct them, too, but the fleet had to go on and priests were needed on board ....
Since then the Paravas had had to be left to themselves, except for a few priests going over at Easter, from Cochin.
And now it was eight years since the War of the Ear.
The little ship, the pepper ship, was careful not to sail too far out into the dangerous waters of the Indian Ocean. Hugging the coast, it stopped for a day at Mangalore, for two days at Calicut, for another two at Cochin. Then it sailed along the Travancore Coast and round Cape Comorin to Manapad.
There Francis and his three students went ashore.
"Flat country", said Coelho, the oldest of the students, and the only one who had received major Orders and was a deacon. "Good for us, because there won't be so many wild animals. Bad—because there is little shade." He opened his parasol.
They found a little grotto, where Francis said Mass.