Felipe’s idyllic life in 1518 Cuba is shattered when Hernan Cortes rides into it. Cortes is desperate for horses; his father has one he refuses to sell. With one lie Cortes steals the horse, throws his father into prison and takes Felipe along to be the horse’s groom. Thus begins the greatest challenge of Felipe’s young life: Get free, get home, save the family farm and exonorate his father. More
Young Felipe Ferrer’s life is turned upside down one day in 1518 when Hernan Cortes rides into the Ferrer stable yard in Cuba. Cortes is planning his expedition to Yucatán and is in desperate need of horses. When Felipe’s father refuses to sell, Cortes cheats him out of his prize stallion, Majesty, and sends Ferrer to debtor’s prison. To save Felipe from the prison, Ferrer arranges for Felipe to go along with Cortes as Majesty’s groom.
Thus begins the greatest challenge of Felipe’s young life: Get free, get home, save the family farm and exonerate his father. Along the way he will deal with bullies, thieves and a Mayan king. He will save a prince, save a girl, and save a horse.
Two previous missions westward had failed. Cuba’s Governor, Velasquez, couldn’t legally spell out what he wanted from Cordoba and Grijalva – to add to the territory over which he ruled, in addition to bringing back a treasure in gold and slaves. Cordoba brought back a few slaves, a little gold, and stories of large cities with paved streets and pyramids. But most of his men were wounded by Indian arrows and spears. Cordoba himself died of his wounds. Grijalva was more cautious. He managed to avoid injury. He mapped a bit of coastline and named a river after himself but he brought back little treasure.
When Cortes was assigned to head the next expedition to the west he planned a much bigger operation – so big, in fact, that Velasquez got worried. He tried to cancel Cortes’ appointment at the last minute. Cortes sailed anyway. Based on what he learned from Cordoba and Grijalva, he had a secret weapon: horses. He knew that before the Spanish came to Cuba the native Taino people who lived there had never seen horses. And he knew that neither of the previous expeditions to the west had encountered any. Therefore, he reasoned that a trained soldier on horseback should be the equal of a hundred natives who had no idea what a horse was.
But horses are scarce in the New World. Velasquez had invaded Cuba in 1511 with less than half a dozen. Seven years later, as Cortes was preparing his expedition there may have been no more than a couple hundred on the whole island.
Felipe didn’t care about any of that. His father had been a scholar in Spain before fleeing to Cuba to avoid the Inquisition. He was, before his unfortunate meeting with Cortes, a humble horse rancher who had lost his Taino wife to smallpox. He was just trying to do the best he could raising and educating Felipe alone.
Felipe’s mother, before she died, had taught him the secrets of the Taino. His father taught him languages. He will need all his skills to survive the Cortes expedition and get back to his father.
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