1. The caravel moaned as it crept up the wide, drowsy river mouth, and it was met at the city limits by crowds of urchins, prostitutes, and thieves in the early dawn. The city’s soldiers dropped the corroded chain between the twin fortresses on either bank of the river, and the caravel continued its lumbering penetration of the city. The boat finally pulled into port just as the bursars were roused from their beds, brought jostling through the crowds to meet the returning fleet. Down the gangplank came the parade of the king’s bedraggled men, the king’s bags of raw gold dust, the king’s parrots and anemic flamingos, the head of a desiccated royal palm, and select nightshade varietals in moldy hemp sacks. And, finally, her: gift of the Holy Ghost, down the gangplank came she, locked in chains, more valuable than the contents of any war chest.
2. “Watch yourself–don’t get too fucking close to her,” hissed the noseless lieutenant to his men. They were exhausted, shuffling from bare broken foot to bare broken foot, avoiding their superior’s glare and watching impatiently from the deck as the caravel crept through the flotsam and garbage floating down the Guadalquivir. Dawn rose over the minarets in the center of the city, and they were spotted by ruffians camped along the riverbank. “Ring the bells! Ring the bells–by God, they’ve returned!” First it was one scabby boy, and then it was all of them, sniveling and crying. The men sobbed as they hurried down the gangplank and pushed into the crowd of jeering drunks and tavern cheats who met them in port. The lieutenant brought up the rear, his coconut-carved prosthesis sliding roughly over the gaping hole of his exposed nasal cavity. They unloaded the booty and the half-dead and wilted specimens. She was brought out last–as lively as ever–and they kept the chains taut on her, her jaws snapping in her beautiful face.
3. They say that a holy light emanated from the caravel as it floated silently up the river–that it sailed like a beautiful angel, its white bosom rising softly over the water lapping at the bow. It appeared in the dawn as though trumpeting the sun’s arrival, and the people cried and cheered, the youngest and strongest walking out into the waters to meet her. They say that the city’s soldiers wept as they lowered the great chain. They placed their hands over their faces and washed their fronts with their tears at the sight of her. When the sailors put down the gangplank and disembarked with the king’s prizes, the last feet to grace the boards were those from which the light shone. The Lady’s brilliance stunned the crowd, the scales along her naked body dazzling them all as they shimmered and pierced their eyes like the cleanest ice, Blessed Mother. Never before had the people beheld such pulchritude, such grace, such magnificent terror.