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Timeline 1424-1500 (Zheng China)

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Heaven's Intervention

On September 7, 1424, Zhu Gaoxi is crowned the Hongxi Emperor. His first order is to cease the voyages of the Treasure Ships and let them rot, despite the pleas of the court eunuchs. That night, a strange phenomena (most likely ball lightning) strikes the Emperor's quarters and sets it aflame. The Emperor, his Empress and virtually all his sons, perish in the flames, alongside key Confucian scholars.

The next day, Zhu Gaoxu, the Emperor's half-brother, is coronated, as the Tienfu Emperor. Seeing the fire as Heaven's judgment, he overrides his brother's first order and contemplates holding on to the fleet before making his decision, trying to keep as many options as possible.

A Troubled Empire

In 1424, China was in trouble. Her treasury had been strained to the limit due to the Yongle Emperor's nigh insatiable ambition and insecurity. Her armies were stretched to the breaking point defending an extensive border with the Mongols as well as a guerrilla campaign in Vietnam. Thanks to floods, famine, and low funding, her people were weak, exhausted, and losing faith in their Emperor. To make matters worse, the royal court was polarized between the eunuchs and the Confucians, with neither side terribly interested in co-operating with one another.

The Tienfu Emperor had to find a solution and quickly, though he had but two solutions: cut spending and raise revenue, neither of which would be easy. He started by slowing the construction of the new capital at Beijing, maintaining it as a key military outpost for the moment. He also began peace talks with the Vietnamese, asking to recognize the border if he withdrew his troops and recognized her independence. To encourage farming in the fertile Yangtze River Delta, he lowered taxes on farmers, allowing them to return to their farms.

However, he still had two major financial drains: the northern frontier and the treasure fleets. While the Mongols were not as great a threat as they were before, they launched incessant raids that required large armies to deter them. Conquering them was not an option as the Chinese armies were comprised mostly of infantry, and the wide open steppe gave the Mongols virtually infinite space to retreat into. Occupying the steppe would have broken the treasury all-together.

The Treasure Fleets, on the other hand, was a more complicated matter. While no one disagreed that they were a heavy drain, neither faction in the court could agree with what to do with them. The Confucians, seeing them as a symbol of the eunuchs and their excessive power, wanted to sink them, but the memory of the previous Emperor and his fate kept them at bay. The Emperor decided to use them to conduct trade, so he planned to dispatch them again, albeit on a smaller, much more practical scale. For that purpose, the legendary Treasure ships would not be going, nor would the fleet be dispatched for several years until China could accumulate enough products for trade. To help lower costs as well as gather support from the Confucians, the Emperor decided to salvage the Treasure ships to make smaller, more practical ships, albeit one at a time.

The New Voyages

By January 7th, 1428, the fleet, reorganized and filled with the best of China's produce, set sail for Indonesia, the Philippines, and Japan, Zheng He in command once more. He had been selected for his prior experience as a commander and a diplomat.

Upon arrival in Indonesia, the fleet split up and headed for the various islands and ports, with the majority heading for Malacca, both to trade and to recuperate for the long journey ahead. As the fleet heads west to India and Persia, they gather information on the political and financial situation ahead. Knowing that profit increased with distance and of Europe's desire for spice and silk, they decide to try to deliver ships straight to Europe within a few voyages when they return.

Within a year and a half, the fleet returned to China, rich with money and information, especially the Europeans' desire for spice and silk. Intrigued by the prospects of having a direct line to Europe, but wary of the risks, the Emperor decides to send a small fleet of ships to sail down the African coast to scout the area ahead. If the journey could be completed safely, then the fleet would explore it further. If not, then they would settle for trading through Egypt and Arabia, a much safer but less profitable route.

On September 16th, 1430, the next voyage was launched, with Zheng He's subordinate, Wang Jinghong, in command of the majority of the fleet, while Zheng He and ten ships, comprised of four war-junks, two supply ships, two patrol ships, an equine ship (converted to carry repair materials) and one water tanker, set sail south along the East African coast. As their mission of exploration instead of trade, they did not carry much trade goods, save a few for dealing with locals. Before departing down the coast, they gathered information from Arab traders and Swahili fishermen, asking about what lay ahead. Unfortunately, all they heard were rumors of something called "Zimbabwe" though these were never substantiated.

As they travelled down the coast, they took careful note of everything they saw, planning and preparing for potential future voyages. About seven weeks into their journey down the coast, a storm occurred that forced the fleet to take shelter in a bay that managed to shelter them from the worst of the storm, though they still suffered some damage. Grateful for their escape, they named the bay "Tiān fēi jiǎ" (天妃岬 literally "Cape of Tianfei") and they set about for repairs.

As they made the repairs, they again took careful notes of the lay of the land, including the resources and the resident people, with whom they shared an uneasy but peaceful coexistence for the time being. After a few weeks, the patrol ships were sent out to scout ahead. They returned within five weeks, with detailed reports of the coast to the north and west. Chief among their reports were strong currents heading northward toward a thick jungle, which then turn westward into a large ocean, though no cities or large ships were in sight. This meant that if they ran into trouble, they would have to rely on their own resources, which were stretched thin as they were. Even if they avoided having any accidents, the counteracting currents would mean that travelling back would be much more difficult and more dangerous.

After taking on supplies, Zheng He faced a difficult decision: continue north and possibly lose the fleet and the knowledge they had obtained, or turn east to return home and organize another expedition, one with ships better designed for these conditions.

Opportunities in India

Meanwhile, Chinese merchants in northwest India discovered not only great profit in trade but also an opportunity to form, or at least begin, a Chinese commercial presence, which would ensure greater security for China's interests in the sea-based trade routes, increasing profits but it would require the support of the court as well as the merchants. It would be expensive to build, but it would provide a shortcut for Chinese ships to carry goods and money across the Indian Ocean, increasing direct access to trade sites and increasing their average profits. This would be a topic of intense debate in the court. While the merchants and the eunuchs were in full support of such a venture, the Confucians, fearing the growing power of the merchants, staunchly opposed the notion. They argued, however, using historical precedent in India, which was the antithesis of China: short periods of stability in a continuum of violence and instability. Any attempts to establish a commercial presence, they argued, would be jeopardized when the next dynasty took over. This meant that China, regardless of her intentions, would get entangled in Indian politics to protect her trade interests, a notion that did not sit well with most Chinese. Nevertheless, the debate continued as the merchants argued that no one would want to jeopardize the lucrative trade with China or they would lose profits as well. The Emperor decided to investigate the matter further but would not take immediate action either way.

The Return Home

Zheng He, deciding prudence was the better course, turned his ships eastward and began the long journey home. Before hand, he left a tribute, a trilingual stele, commemorating the Emperor and Tienfei for their voyages and their arrival at the bay, written in Mandarin, Tamil and Persian. On March 5th, 1431, they departed for the north, though due to the counteracting currents, they made significantly slower progress, taking up to seventeen weeks to navigate their way north to the Swahili coast, taking time to gather supplies and information. They arrived at the Somali coast on July 10th, 1431.

Once on the Somali coast, they stopped for supplies and repairs, as well as information asking the Arab traders about the ocean beyond Africa. While the Arabs were the world's foremost traders, trading with virtually everyone, they had no information on the ocean beyond Africa, frustrating Zheng He to no end. They did, however, provide maps of the Mediterranean Sea from their trade ventures in Egypt and Arabia, which were somewhat more accurate than what the Chinese already had. Realizing that he would have to go in himself, he went over the potential arguments he would face in the court as he returned to China.

When Zheng He returned to Nanjing in October 31, 1431, he reported his findings to the royal court. As expected, the court was divided on how to react. While some relished the prospects for greater trade, most, including eunuchs and Confucians alike, disagreed at the idea of rounding the bay, one of the few instances of agreement between the two factions. Only a handful were interested in the idea of studying the ocean farther, arguing that if they could round the cape, and perhaps eventually establish a permanent presence, however distant in the future, they would control a very lucrative trade, more than enough to pay for the immediate expenses.

In the end, the Emperor, while desiring greater exploration in the hopes of expanded trade, managed to convince the court to hold off making the decision, though it was only stalling for time. Even so, Zheng He never stopped pushing for an expansion of China's trade and exploration, gathering allies and support until his death in late 1433 from old age. His last voyage proved to be the last hurrah for the Treasure ships, as they would no longer be sent abroad and would be salvaged to cut costs and to build smaller ships.

Tensions in the Court

Over the next twenty-five years, as China slowly built up her treasury through trade, she underwent a slow change in her economy. As silver flowed into China and her farmers and artisans expanded their produce, they became more entangled with the market economy, which eventually saw the rise of a new class as wage workers replaced corvee labor. This also necessitated monetization, the conversion of some levies into money, expediting the commercialization of the economy. The transition also saw a greater empowerment of the merchants, whose skills at working the local and world markets gave them huge profits. Soon, China was well on her way towards recovering from the Yongle Emperor's excessive extravagance.

However, this prosperity came at a significant price. As China's population expanded, so did her demand for arable land, as land allotments shrank, forcing farmers to make due with less land than their predecessors. The Emperor attempted to alleviate this by encouraging immigration to the north and west provinces, especially the area around Beijing. However, due to differences in soil and weather patterns, these farmers often had to accept loans from landowners and merchants to pay for their new farms. If these farmers could not pay their debts, they often sold their land to the same people to whom they owed money, undermining the reason behind their immigration. The commercialization also drove a demand for silver, which spurred the need for trade. The government's reluctance to open silver mines, for fear of them falling into private hands and undermining the government's base, only exacerbated the problem.

These changes, plus the growing plight of the peasants angered the Confucians, who once again attacked the Emperor for failing in his primary duty: to protect the physical and moral well-being of his people. They said the people were becoming greedy and forgetting classical Confucian values, and that the Emperor, who was supposed to set the moral exemplar so that others would follow, had to either reform or risk losing the Mandate of Heaven.

The Emperor faced a potential no-win scenario: if he did nothing, he would lose the support of the Confucians and possibly face a succession crisis; if he tried to appease the Confucians, he would lose the support of the merchants, whose skills and profits were becoming increasingly important to China's well-being. For a while, it seemed that history would repeat itself as it did back in the reign of the Yongle Emperor.

Fortunately for the Emperor, he had three distinct advantages over his father: first, commerce, and the changes it was producing, were among the top five sources of revenue for the government; second, half of the present, and most of the future, Confucians were from the younger generation, who grew up in the midst of this change, and were often subsidized by the new wealthy classes; and third, he ascended the throne and ruled the Empire differently from his father. These differences undermined the reactionaries support, meaning that the Emperor's position was relatively secure, so the threat of civil war was much lower than it was in his father's situation.

All the same, he needed to find a way to placate the reactionaries, for they still had significant influence both within and without the court. They also had something the Emperor did not count on: Zhu Zhanji, Prince Zhuang of Liang, and a surviving son of Zhu Gaoxi, the Emperor's brother. The reactionaries were hoping to use him as a challenger to the Emperor's legitimacy to the throne, claiming that he stole the throne as his father did, providing them the justification for overthrowing him. Enticed by the promise of ruling the Empire, Zhu Zhanji agreed and readied the forces stationed in his fiefdom.

On April 23, 1437, the reactionaries made their move, infiltrating the Emperor's palace in Nanjing, and making their way into the inner rooms, supplied with maps from a corrupt eunuch named Wang Zhen, who had attained a fortune through dealing with merchants and wanted more. The Emperor's compromises with the Confucians, however, kept most business under government eyes while promoting them into the open. By allying with the reactionaries, who promised to reverse the economic changes, he knew that he would have access to a wide array of industry and business much freer from government oversight. He also distracted the guards while the reactionaries made their way inside. As they entered the Imperial bedchamber, they leapt upon the bed, ready to kidnap or kill the Emperor.

Unfortunately for them, Wang Zhen had betrayed them, and told the guards of the plot before hand, and had them waiting for the conspirators just outside the Emperor's quarters. The conspirators, realizing they had no chance to escape, attempted to kill the Emperor before they were arrested, only to find that the Emperor had been sleeping in a different chamber and a fake body was put in his place. During the struggle, most of the conspirators were killed, and the rest were arrested. Meanwhile, Zhu Zhanji had reached Nanjing and prepared for battle.

The Emperor, hearing of the massing of troops outside his city, ordered his guards to prepare for battle and to open the gates. Seeing the gates open, Zhu Zhanji's forces quickly swarmed the city, heading for the palace to seize the throne. About halfway through, however, the gates were thrown shut, trapping them inside, and the Emperor's guards ambushed them. Taken by surprise in the narrow and crowded streets of Nanjing, Zhu Zhanji's forces could not maneuver themselves into formation and were cut down mercilessly. Zhu Zhanji, realizing the battle was now of life and death, attempted to rally his troops and press on, but he was attacked by a guardsman and forced to engage in a duel. He fought bravely and staunchly, but he did not have the experience his opponent did and his throat was slashed, ending his life instantly. Seeing their leader fall, the majority of the troops surrendered, though a few fought on defiantly, and were killed in the process.

The coup defeated, the Emperor sought out the body of Zhu Zhanji, hoping to confiscate it before anyone else saw and recognized it. When it was found, he faced a terrible dilemma: how to keep the coup attempt quiet? If it was known, he faced the prospect of festering further dissent, polarizing the court, and possibly even future coup attempts. In the trial, he sentenced them to death for plotting rebellion against the Emperor. Next, to eliminate the threat posed by Zhu Zhanji's sons, he reassigned them to guard the northern borders against the Mongols. Finally, he hosted imperial exams to replace the Confucians that conspired against him, filling the ranks with the new generation, a generation that grew up in the midst of the ongoing changes and were less opposed to them.

Zheng Tingxian's First Voyage

In September of 1438, Zheng Tingxian, Wanxian's younger brother, set out on his first voyage to the south, to establish talks with the Gujarat Sultanate and other cities along the Indian coast about the potential of building a Chinese commercial presence within their cities. This, however, was more a fact-finding mission than anything else, as the court was still hesitant to establish commercial bases outside of China and her traditional vassals, Korea and Vietnam. If the situation was stable and would be so for several years, then the court would allow it. If not, then they would look elsewhere. Similar missions were sent under different commanders to Indonesia and the Philippines, with the same orders as Tingxian. This would be the first naval mission where the Treasure ships would not be going. Most had been disassembled to build smaller, more practical ships, though two remained solely for propaganda reasons to awe potential diplomats, though even then their days were numbered.

Within a few months, Zheng Tingxian arrived along the Indian coast and entered the city of Surat, asking to open talks with Ahmed Shah I. The Sultan, old and preoccupied with domestic affairs, sent his son, Muhammad Shah I, and his ambassador from his capital in Ahmadabad to meet and talk with him. The opening talks were to obtain permission to travel to the capital of Ahmedabad to discuss China's desire to establish a trading post in Surat to store goods and money for trade with India and other powers along the ocean. Muhammad Shah and the ambassador, intrigued by China's proposal, arranged for Tingxian and a small entourage to travel to the capital to discuss the matter personally with the Shah. Before leaving, Tingxian ordered his men to stay alert for trouble and if the situation demanded it, leave him behind to protect the fleet. After a week-long journey, they arrived at the capital and talks began immediately. The proposed arrangement was that Chinese merchants would manage the trading posts and all business deals and arrangements, but would pay small taxes to the city for small-time protection (i.e. thieves) and infrastructure, and for maintenance and labor, the merchants would hire local people for labor. However, in the case of civil strife or rebellion, a small garrison of Chinese soldiers, augmented by local mercenaries, would protect the trading post. Due to the Chinese distain for foreign goods, India was losing silver to China, and the opportunity to even the trade imbalance was a tempting idea, though the talks continued for another few weeks as he tried the boundaries of the proposal.

Over the next few weeks, while Zheng Tingxian and the Sultan negotiated over the Emperor's proposal, his men scouted around the neighboring kingdoms, including the Delhi Sultanate, to see what the political and economic situation in India was at the time. They learned of the growing power of the Vijayanagara Empire on the southeast coast as well as the new Gajapati Kingdom just north of it. One constant snag in their tentative negotiations was the insistence that China back a particular kingdom militarily and economically. This was directly against the Emperor's wishes, as it would undermine their reason for coming, to increase commerce, and it would invest China in India in a manner that she was not prepared for. For this reason, many negotiations ended with "failure".

Eventually the negotiations boiled down to either China closing a deal with the Gujarat Sultanate, or no deal at all. While the Sultan was willing to agree with the conditions of the treaty as set by the Chinese, he still insisted on one thing that Zheng Tingxian was hesitant to grant: he wanted a small share of the profits from the commercial activities, no more than 20 percent. Zheng Tingxian, while eager to close the deal, was unsure whether the deal would be worth it, so he consulted the merchants. While they did not like the idea of the Sultan receiving a share of "their" profits, they calculated it would be worth it, though they asked if he could haggle with the Sultan. In the following negotiations, Zheng Tingxian managed to set the percentage at 15 instead of the Sultan's 20, and the deal was done.

Over the next three and a half years, the Chinese merchants, using local labor and Indian and Chinese engineers, built the first trading post on the island of Diu. The design was based on stone instead of wood, for stone was stronger and more resilient to fire and rodents, improving the protection of the valued goods stored within. To withstand the monsoons common in India, the rooves were sloped to allow rain to drip off, and to avoid the high winds, the buildings, including the famed pagodas, were made relatively low and stocky compared to their counterparts in China. The pagodas were also of a different design, with their rooves made of a more circular design rather than the more usual square shape, and they did not flare out as much as they did in China. To compensate for the relatively low height, the stores were made larger and contained subterranean chambers, though these were usually reserved for more waterproof goods, such as jade and porcelain. Zheng Tingxian and the Sultan's son both oversaw its construction and on July 27, 1442, the trading post was finished, and others were being planned along the coast.

The fleet returned home with excellent news. The Emperor was greatly pleased that the deal was sealed and that soon he would be conducting trade across the Indian Ocean, so much that he ordered a feast in celebration. It is rumored that his death shortly afterward, on Octover 15th, 1442, may have been due in part to his jubilant celebrations and overindulgence. His son, Zhu Zhanqi took over as the Chenghe Emperor on October 16th, 1442. Seeing the success of the trading post adventure in India, he contemplated establishing further posts in the area, one particularly tempting target was the Spice Islands themselves. However, the court was still hesitant and wanted to see the results of this "experiment" before attempting it on a larger scale, so he had to wait until enough money arrived to convince the court of the plan's merits. Unfortunately for the Emperor, developments up north and along the convergence between the Korean, Ming and Manchurian borders would soon capture his full attention and energy.

Northern Frontier

Although China was largely advancing trade and commerce in the Indian Ocean and South East Asia, things were not going well in the Northern frontier. The Chinese tactic of division between the Mongol tribes has not been working, ever since a largely influential Mongol leader, Esen Taishi, took power. Over the next few years, he conquered Manchuria and Mongolia is now posing a serious threat to the Chinese, especially with the increasing intensity and frequency of the Mongolian raids on Chinese border villages, and in 1445 his empire reached the northern border of Korea. However, the emperor was too involved in the projects in the Western Ocean to be devoted in the defence project, until now. With the trading post built in India, the emperor could finally take a serious look on the approaching Oirats. His first order was to mobilize his army to the Northern frontier.

Now that the emperor had time governing over the Northern frontier, the army begins banding in northern China. As the army mobilized on the northern frontier, the Mongol raids died down, though continued at a lower pace, but whether this was merely a tactical withdrawal or not was unknown. Both sides stared each other down across the Great Wall, daring each other to make the first move. The Chinese had the edge in numbers and technology while the Mongols had superior mobility. Neither side could profitably invade the other's territory, prolonging the stalemate.

The Emperor, perhaps a little naive or arrogant, attempted to negotiate with Esen, hoping to end the conflict peacefully. He knew that any attempt to invade the steppe would be futile due to the Mongols' superior mobility and the Chinese army's dependence on long supply lines. 

In 1447, October, 17th, Esen and the Chenghe Emperor met in Shenyang to negotiate. However, Esen wanted China to give tributes to the newly formed Oirat Khanate, as well as more trade, which the Chenghe Emperor knew would allow large amounts of Chinese luxurious goods to flow into Mongolia in return for more mundane goods, such as cow hide and dairy products. On the other hand, China asked Esen to retreat out of the already claimed Chinese lands, which would force thousands of Mongolians to move and force the Oirats to go out of the rich steppes near the Yellow River. Also, historical precedent was that any deal forged between China and the nomadic tribes tended to be transient, being broken as easily as they were formed due to the two sides different lifestyles. After one day of talks and negotiations, the compromisation failed due to the largely different views of both sides and urged Esen to quickly wage war on China, since Chenghe Emperor would likely never agree with the Mongolian terms.

Within days the Mongols raids increased in frequency and intensity, though these were little more than skirmishes between the raiders and the garrisons of the towns and villages they attacked, and for the most part they were repelled. The Emperor, however, understood that these were simply probes for weakness than any real attempt to invade China. However, he was unsure of whether these were a diversionary attack to draw Chinese forces away from more important targets, or if they were the preliminary for a massive attack against the weaker areas. Unsure, he called a council of war. His cavalry chief, Zheng Wanxian, the son of Zheng Enlai, who was Zheng He's nephew and adopted son, along with Yu Qian, the current Minister of Defence, recommended that the Chinese infantry and artillery be deployed to protect the more important sites, meaning such sites as the cities of Beijing and Jiuquan and the Grand Canal. The cavalry, on the other hand, should be ready to engage the Mongols in a game of hit and run, intending to wear them down while coaxing them to fight where the Chinese held the advantage. They knew that in a cavalry fight, the Mongols, having more and better horses, would definitely win, whereas if they could lure the Mongols into an ambush by their infantry, then they would lose. Others, including the eunuch Wang Zhen, denounced the plan as cowardly and advocated that the Chinese should make the first strike, arguing that a major defeat within China would cost the Emperor the people's support. The Emperor, having learned well from his father, decided to try to entrap the Mongols, by leaving one area, near Hami, particularly vulnerable by delaying re-inforcing the garrison, as bait to lure the Mongols in.

On the steppe, Esen was growing tired of playing hit-and-run, but knew he had virtually no chance of taking on the Chinese army in a head-to-head battle and winning. When he heard that Hami's garrison was slowly weakening and that it had not been getting re-inforcements, he smelled both opportunity and a trap. While he recognized that Hami was not as militarily important as other positions farther east and was more distant from the main population centers, meaning that slow re-inforcing was to be expected, he was still hesitant to attack in full as the garrison was weakened but not critically. He also recognized an opportunity to break into China and wreaked havoc while the re-inforcements were still arriving. He still suspected that it was a trap, perhaps the Chinese making the garrison appear weaker than it really was. Unwilling to risk it all at the moment, he ordered repeated attacks on Hami to gauge the response.

Skirmish at Hami

With the repeated Mongol attacks on Hami, little retaliation was made and as the Mongol cavalry saw, mostly were by the peasants, wielding basic weapons, such as spears made from poles. Esen, now seeing the chance and how the capture of Hami, may mean another way to attack China without passing through the Great Wall. He banded up 1,000 Mongol cavalry and 2,000 Mongol horse archers.

Pre-dawn, on November 14th 1447, a Mongol army appeared from the steppe and attacked the area around Hami, taking the defenders by surprise and killing many villagers. The soldiers, drowsy from sleep and chilly in the pre-morning dawn, were slow to react. When they finally managed to orient themselves, they counterattacked, hoping to blunt the Mongol attack at the very least. Fortunately for them, while the area surrounding the city was heavily damaged, the main garrison, safe behind the city walls, managed to escape the carnage. Just as the defenders managed to form a working defense, however, the Mongols left as soon as they came. Riding westward, the Mongols began attacking targets of opportunity, including supply wagons, making their intention clear: instead of attacking the city walls, they would simply starve Hami into submission as the majority of their army swarmed into China.

The Emperor, learning of the attack at Hami, faced intense criticism in the court, who accused him of failing to pacify the barbarians when he had the chance. The Emperor, surpisingly calm, simply replied that Esen simply took the bait, shocking the court. He revealed that he already had a plan for dealing with the Mongols, and that THEY, not HE, made a fatal mistake. With the great, wide steppe the Chinese had no hope of defeating them without a prohibitively expensive campaign. Now, with the Mongols inside China, they had a chance to defeat them decisively.

The Emperor's plan, formulated between himself, his cavalry commander, and Minister of War, was to allow the Mongols into China, and then use their cavalry to attack them in their own game of hit-and-run and try to lure the Mongols into a decisive engagement in a place and time of his choosing.

The Battle of Jiuquan

After one month, the armies in Hami, burdened by the refugees that fled from the countryside, had run out of food and water and surrendered, allowing Esen to pass through. Esen, now seeing that his army had virtually free access, mobilized onto his second objective: to capture Jiuquan, China's door to the West and a large population center, rides onto Jiuquang. The capture of Jiunquan would not only sever China's overland tie to the Silk Road and feed the Mongols well, but it would also grant him and his cavalry greater access to the north Chinese plains, where he would have the advantage over China. The Emperor, having planned about this from the onset of the campaign, had dispatched soldiers to send the people out of Jiuquan and train them to fight guerrilla style to help slow and weaken the Mongols as they marched, as well as give his infantry and artillery time to reach the city. 

As Esen rode onto Jiuquan, he found himself fighting an unexpected surprise, his own tactics. Chinese cavalry, lightly armored and equiped with bows and arrows, probably outfitted by tribes that fled the Oirats' rule, had been attacking his army in hit-and-run style, and the peasants had organized attacks on the camps, including burning down bridges to slow the Mongols down, burning their villages and crops to deny their use to the Mongols, and burning Mongol army camps at night. Meanwhile, the Chinese cavalry also runs through Mongol camps at night, forcing them to wake up at the sight of a dozen or even less Chinese cavalry slaughtering their sheep (Mongol's main source of food) or trying to sabotage their gunpowder stores and then running off into the dark.

All and all though, these attacks were more nuisances than anything else and Esen rode on, determined to take Jiuquan. Within seven weeks, he finally reached the city, and prepared to attack. Now, the Mongol army towers 15,000 people, with 2,000 cavalry, 3,000 horse archers, 3,000 Mongol infantry (who are basically Mongol peasants) 7,000 conscripted Chinese peasants and surrendered soldiers, and over 25 cannons. Esen pitched camp in front on a lake near Jiayu, the fortress protecting Jiuquang and started banding up his troops, preparing for the siege.

On February, 7th, 1448, Esen assaulted the fortress of Jiayu. His horse archers pulled in front of the wall, shooting at the defenders, then retreating back. This continued for a few hours, until Esen saw that he couldn't trick the Chinese into exiting the fortress, which would have made them vulnerable to Cavalry charges. Seeing that the Chinese would not fall for that, he realized that he would need siege equipment to take the fort. Fortunately for the Mongols, he had planned in advance for this and had hired engineers from other Khanates and even Persia and coerced the conscripted peasants and soldiers to build the machines. Within three weeks, Esen had built an impressive array of siege equipment, from towers to battering rams to trepuchets. While his engineers and laborers built the much needed equipment, Esen sent his cavalry archers to scout ahead and prevent the city from receiving supplies, weakening them while keeping himself informed of the Chinese army movements and strength. He also assigned laborers to dig tunnels under the walls where they would plant gunpowder under the walls and cause them to collapse, allowing the Mongols to swarm the fort, if all else failed.

On February 28th, Esen again launched his attack on the city, opening up with a barrage from the trepuchets. While many of their missiles flew short of their target, not having found their range, some still hit within the fort, scoring a psychological blow, as the Chinese found themselves trapped rather than protected. While they worked tirelessly to repair the damage, they knew their days were numbered without supplies or re-inforcements, and with their cavalry committed to guerrilla attacks, they had little hope of taking out the dreaded siege equipment. Even so, the siege continued as the Mongols repeatedly battered their doors, hoping their enemy would see sense and surrender.

On March 22nd, after three weeks of continued battering and lack of food or water, the garrison surrendered, leaving the city of Jiuquan vulnerable to Mongol attack. Esen spared no time in riding for the city of Jiuquan and reached it within days, though his advance was slowed by the siege equipment and the infantry. Once he arranged his troops, his first order was to send the Chinese peasants and soldiers as kharash forces. As they ran across the fields, they encountered marginal resistance, signaling to the Mongols that the city had already surrendered and his cavalry charged across the field.

Unfortunately for the Mongols, as they reached the outskirts of the city, the Mongol cavalry found itself under heavy fire as Chinese cannons and rockets fired from the city and even the hills, inflicting heavy damage and stopping the Mongols in their tracks. It turned out that the Emperor had allowed Hami and Jiayu to fall to wear the Mongols down and give himself time to deploy his troops, over 25,000 infantry, 1,000 heavy cavalry, and 100 pieces of artillery. He arranged his artillery in a horseshoe shape throughout the city and around the surrounding countryside, catching the Mongol cavalry as they charged the city. As the artillery fire died down, the Chinese infantry charged inwards against the still dazed Mongol cavalry, wielding pole-weapons like the ji halberd and the guan dao, pulling Mongols from their horses and impalling them. Esen, seeing this development, ordered his cavalry to withdraw and use the siege weapons to open fire. Once more, the Chinese artillery opened fire, this time from farther in the hills, the Emperor having foreseen Esen's eventual use of siege weapons and deployed cannons in the hills to try to take them out. These cannons, being lighter than others, did not do much actual damage but greatly confused the Mongols as they tried to man their weapons. It also caused great casualties to their infantry, who remained behind to guard the invaluable weapons as well as set up the Mongols' cannons which they captured from the Chinese at Jiayu.

In the midst of all this the Chinese infantry and heavy cavalry attacked in full, taking on the Mongols in a pitched battle, with Zheng Wanxian leading the charge, armed with a bow and arrow. The cavalry attacked the northern flank, forcing their way through around the Mongols while the infantry attacked the center and south flank. As the Chinese infantry and cavalry converged on the Mongols, the Chinese artillery ceased firing, not wanting to accidentally hit their own. Esen, realizing the battle was lost, called for a withdrawal back to the fort, only to find himself under attack from the Chinese cavalry, which had managed to force their way through and cut the Mongols off. Esen, realizing that he had been outwitted, surrendered to Zheng Wanxian and the fighting ceased. The Mongols suffered over 2,500 casualties, mostly their cavalry and infantry, while their horse archers managed to escape the worst of the carnage. The Chinese suffered over 6,00 casualties, mainly infantry as they closed in on the Mongols and ran into their cannons, though their cavalry also took a heavy beating.

Treaty of Jiuquan

The Emperor and Esen travelled to the city of Jiuquan to treat their wounded and discuss a peace arrangement. The Emperor, knowing he had decisively defeated the Mongols, pondered over how to best exploit the opportunity he had grasped. While a permanent peace with the Mongols would have been golden, he knew from history and the Mongols' way of life that such a hope was largely impossible, as the Oirats, having been defeated, found their authority under attack as rival leaders and tribes seized the opportunity to assert their independence and the empire began to relapse into infighting. Knowing a permanent treaty was impossible, the Emperor sought the most realistic road: pacification of the northern frontier and resumption of trade, which he sought through a treaty that would leave Esen weakened but not critically, to act as a counterweight to the other Mongol tribes. He offered Esen and half of his remaining forces safe passage to Mongolia if Esen promised to return Hami and Jiayu to Chinese control and resume tributary status, with some of the Mongols' finest horses as the first tribute to the Ming Empire. After the tribute was sent, the rest of Esen's army would be returned home, as a guarantee against Esen suddenly changing his mind. To improve Esen's chances of reasserting his authority, his forces were provided a generous donation of gunpowder weapons, including rockets and hand cannons to crush his rivals more easily. As an attempt to foster an alliance, Esen offered his sister as a bride to the Emperor's son and heir apparent, Zhu Taiji. Esen, seeing the advantage that Chinese support would give him amidst the threat of renewed infighting, agreed and the treaty was signed March 24th, 1448. Esen and his best cavalry troops, albeit disarmed made their way north to Mongolia. As further insurance against treachery, the Chinese had Esen's troops disarmed save for sabers and spears, promising their other weapons when they arrived back on the steppe, a journey that lasted over four months.

Upon their arrival on the steppe, Esen and his men received their projectile weapons as well as a six month supply of gunpowder and several hundred cannons, mostly hand-cannons along with a few field pieces, and rockets. While this impressive arsenal gave him the edge on the battlefield against other Mongol tribes, they were largely useless against fortified walls, discouraging the Mongols from plotting treacherously. These pieces were well used by Esen, as he quickly reasserted his authority over the Oirats and the western tribes, though the eastern tribes and the Jurchens remained largely independent. As the infighting died down in intensity, Esen sent his sister to Beijing, where a royal marriage soon took place between her and Zhu Taiji. Soon after, the rest of Esen's army had returned to Mongolia, where Esen deployed them to protect his weakened Empire against the Khalka Mongols, who had managed to wrest control over Manchuria from him. While he sent horses to China, all of fine quality, he kept the majority to himself as he sought every advantage he could get. Though the Chinese wanted more, the Emperor understood that this was probably all they would receive and that any attempt to force the issue would destabilize the hard-earned peace, so he was mostly content.

Trade and Exploration

With the northern frontier "pacified", the Chinese resumed their focus on trade with the west. The profits from first trading post in Diu had arrived in China, pleasing the Emperor and the court immensely. The success of the posts convinced the Emperor and many members of the court to try to expand the system to include the Vijayanagara Empire, perhaps even the Spice Islands themselves. The fleet, led by Zheng Tingxian, Wanxian's younger brother, departed Nanjing in early June of 1453. As the fleet neared Taiwan, Zheng Tingxian had his fleet split into different groups and sail to Calicut, Maynila, the Spice Islands, and Malacca, to evaluate the political and economic stability of each of these places to see if the profits from trade would compensate for the costs of their establishment.

The fleet met mixed results as they pulled into their respective ports. While some, including many in the Spice Islands and the Kingdom of Tondo, welcomed the prospects of such trading posts and negotiations began in earnst, others, including the Vijayanagara Empire, were much harder to convince. Mallikarjuna Raya proved a rather ineffectual ruler, with ongoing wars against the Bahmani Sultanate and Kalinga-Utkal Odisha. Zheng Tingxian felt that sooner or later, the Empire would either collapse and be divided among foreign powers, or a capable general would topple the dynasty and establish a new one. In either case, the situation would be tense for at least a decade and perhaps as long as half a century, meaning that little trade could be profitably or safely conducted via a trading post, unless China was willing to prop him up. Again, the Chinese refused, preferring their traditional methods over direct administration.

In Malacca, the Chinese found a rather difficult situation. While the Sultan, Muzaffar Shah, was quite open to further and more frequent trade with China, they disliked the idea of trading posts as they felt it would give the Chinese too much influence over the Spice Trade. News that the Chinese had managed to secure posts in the Spice Islands themselves only served to make the negotiations more difficult. The Chinese began to wonder if establishing trade posts was really necessary, and Zheng Tingxian decided that with trading posts in the Spice Islands, trading posts in or near Malacca or Singapura would be redundant, though to appease the Sultan, they promised to moderate prices in the Spice Trade to not overly monopolize the Spice Trade. They also offered to return at a later date to discuss the matter anew if the Sultan wanted.

As the negotiations occurred, the Chinese took the time to investigate other potential sites for trade, including Sri Lanka and the islands of Borneo, Java, and Sumatra. While these investigations gave the Chinese a great deal of information, they did not immediately act on it, preferring to report their findings and success to the Emperor and the court. While they found many were interested in increasing trade with China, only a few were interested in establishing trading posts with the Chinese. The Kingdom of Kotte in Sri Lanka, for example, eager for increased trade, soon began talks about establishing trading posts in Jaffna and Columbo, though as with the Sultan of Gujarat, they wanted a piece of China's profits for themselves. After some brief haggling, Tingxian and King Parakramabahu VI agreed on 20 percent, higher because the Chinese had two cities to build in as opposed to one in Gujarat.

They found a similar situation in Sumatra, with the Samudera Pasai Sultanate, a kingdom on the northwest tip of Sumatra. The Chinese found an almost ideal site for establishing a trade post, as the Sultan had access to rich gold deposits and woodlands in the hills, with pepper under cultivation, and the natural harbor plus its position on the overseas trade routes made it an almost perfect site for ships and traders, though over the last half century, it started losing traders to Malacca. The Chinese, mostly for curiosity's sake, open a dialogue with the Sultan to see if the economic gains would cover the costs. While the Sultan was more than willing to help the Chinese and eagerly sought further trade with China, Tingxian feared that expansion into Pasai would undermine talks with the stronger Malacca Sultanate. Deciding to bring the matter to the court and the Emperor, Tingxian left without promising anything, but he did say that China would probably return later to discuss the matter further.

In Java and Borneo, however, the Chinese faced a rather different situation. The Bruneian ruler, while eager for further trade, felt that giving the Chinese permission to establish trading posts would give them too much power over the trade routes. Tingxian, feeling he still had a chance, offered to hear the Sultan's counterproposal. The Sultan, Sulaiman, wanted China to reduce its commercial presence in the Philippines, as he had designs to expand his empire in exchange for increased tribute, including gold and the precious dragon blood. While it was tempting, Tingxian did not want to betray the King of Tondo and declined the proposal. He tried offering the Sultan a share of the profits at 25 percent, higher than any other offer. The Sultan, intrigued by this offer, decided to think it over but did not promise anything either way.

In Java, they found an Empire steadily declining due to dynastic strife and competition with the local Sultanates, including Malacca. Though the Majapahit had steadily lost influence over their far-flung empire, they still reigned supreme over Java, maintaining relative stability. The Majapahit king, Girishawardhana, eager to rejunvenate his declining kingdom, granted the Chinese permission to build trading posts within his cities, provided that he should receive 20 percent of the profits.

At the end of 1454, the Emperor reviewed China's progress thus far. They had made significant progress in their trading posts, controlling much of the Spice Trade, quickly filling the Imperial Treasury. They had also established posts on virtually every major post between India and the Spice Islands, though the trade routes between Java and Malacca remained largely untouched. To further complicate affairs, the Malacca Sultanate, a protectorate and ally since the Yongle Emperor, had declined the construction of trading posts, straining their relationship. They also discovered that their decision to overlook certain trade routes was a mistake as the local rulers bought valuable items, such as the treasured silk and spices, from the Chinese only to sell them back to Chinese merchants at higher prices, undermining the purpose of the trading posts. The court held a debate on how to rectify the situation. Some wondered if Chinese ships could not simply carry the items themselves instead. Others wanted to extend the trading posts to include Malacca, Pasai, and possibly Brunei, and just maybe southern Borneo. A very small minority pondered whether this was proof that China had taken a wrong turn with her commercialization, but they were largely ignored by the court. The court decided to try to incorporate these rulers into their system by building trading posts within these cities, starting with Malacca, who had strong relations with Brunei and with China. On June 22, 1455, Zheng Tingxian was once more dispatched to negotiate on the Emperor's behalf.

In Malacca, Zheng Tingxian found a more open atmosphere to China's commercial interests as the Ayutthaya Kingdom had begun mobilizing in the north, hoping to capture Malacca and gain access to rich trade. The Sultan, not wanting to take any chances, opened talks with China once Zheng Tingxian arrived. This time, due to military pressure from the north, Muzaffar Shah was much more inclined to allow the Chinese to establish a trading post in the city and even allowed a small garrison of Chinese troops in the city, so long as the Sultan's soldiers always outnumbered them. Plans for trading posts were quickly drawn up and Chinese ships began arriving with supplies and soldiers.

When word of this reached the Ayutthaya Kingdom, King Trailokkanat decided to de-mobilize his troops and try to open talks with China on establishing trade posts within his kingdom rather than risk taking on the Ming Empire. Instead, he sent envoys, offering to open talks with the Chinese regarding trade posts and possibly building them in his kingdom as well. Zheng Tingxian, while intrigued at the idea, decided to wait for the Emperor's decision rather than settle the matter immediately. His business in Malacca finished, he sailed eastward to Brunei.

In a few months, Zheng Tingxian arrived at Kota Batu and consulted with the Sultan, Sulaiman. While the Sultan was not opposed to China building trading posts within his territories, and rather relished the prospect of further trade with China, he was still concerned of China's close relationship with the Kingdom of Tondo and still harbored plans for expansion into the Philippines. Zheng Tingxian admitted that if pushed to it, China would fight to protect the Kingdom of Tondo and advised the Sultan to avoid antagonizing their kingdom or China. However, he did inform the Sultan that the relationship between the Kingdom of Tondo and China would not be strained if he merged into the Kingdom of Tondo via marriage or other such means. In fact, doing so would promote trade and diplomatic relations with China. Intrigued, the Sultan decided to think about it later, but for now, he was placated and agreed to China's request, though he requested that China be allowed only one trading post, to better monitor their actions, as well as 20 percent of the profits. Zheng Tingxian, feeling that China was unlikely to get a better deal at the moment, agreed and the deal was sealed.

Finally, Zheng Tingxian made a visit to Pasai, where he met the Sultan to discuss potential trade arrangements with China. The Sultan, eager for increased trade with China, agreed provided that he should receive 20 percent of the profits, to which Zheng Tingxian agreed and planning began in earnst. In March 1456, Zheng Tingxian returned home to China, who now had a trading post along virtually the whole maritine Silk Road, extending China's influence considerably.

With the trading posts established, the Emperor felt it was time to send the fleets out to explore the west coast of Africa, following the footsteps of Zheng He. In March 1461, the Emperor commissioned Zheng Tingxian to depart for the east African coast, with a fleet of over thirty ships, twelve warships, five patrol ships, five equine ships for repairs, five supply ships, and three water tankers. After four months, he reached the Somali coast, where he stopped for repairs, supplies, and information about what the situation was like farther south. Expecting to hear rumors of the Zimbabwe Kingdom, instead he heard that that the ancient kingdom had been conquered by a newcomer, the Kingdom of Mutapa. These rumors were never substantiated, though Zheng Tingxian decided to keep them in mind for later and he also sent scouts out whenever he stopped for supplies or repairs. Before he departed for the south coast, he hired some local guides among the Swahili in the hopes that they could act as interpreters. As he travelled south, the rumors of the Kingdom of Mutapa became stronger and more substantiated, though the area was still relatively unstable, so he did not try to initiate contact with the rumored kingdom.

Within seven months of departing China, Zheng Tingxian had arrived at Tiān fēi jiǎ, the bay his great uncle, Zheng He, had discovered, identified by the trilingual stele left by him. As with before, he sent scouts to ascertain what had changed in the last thirty years. As his predecessor did before him, Tingxian sent patrol ships to get a feel for the currents heading north. He also tried to open a dialogue with the native pastoralists and hunter-gatherers, though the language was unlike anything the Chinese had ever encountered. After seven weeks of failed communication attempts, the Chinese were ready to give up, though one man, Shen Jun, a descendant of Shen Kuo, managed to make some headway with the language and tentative negotiations commenced. Unfortunately for the Chinese, their effort proved to be in vain, for the pastoralists had no information of what lay ahead to the north or the west.

Frustrated, Zheng Tingxian tried to console himself with attempting to open trade relations with the natives. Unfortunately, while the Chinese silk and spices were highly valued by the pastoralists, they had little of value for the Chinese, save for some information about the surroundings. Zheng Tingxian decided to investigate by himself, though again, the surroundings seemed to offer little of value except the bay. He decided to take a detailed map of the surroundings, the blueprints for a town he hoped, though barely, that the court would commission in the future.

After the patrol ships returned from their journey north, a journey that took over five months, they provided a rudimentary map of the coastline, including the hidden reefs and shoals. Zheng Tingxian, feeling confident, decided to sail north, along the coast, perhaps finding a way to Europe. Knowing the trip would be rough due to the currents, his ships were made to be sturdier than usual back in China, though he still practiced caution as he travelled north. To help him with any future linguistic challenges, Tingxian arranged for some local guides to accompany him as he travelled north, hoping that their language, or at least their language family, had spread north or at least originated there.

About two months in the journey north, the fleet came across a thick jungle and a large river. Stopping for supplies and repairs, Zheng Tingxian sent scouts out to see if there were any cities or villages. His scouts reported seeing dark-skinned men fishing along the river, armed with iron fish-hooks. They also saw men in formation and movement that resembled their own military marching, though these were mainly composed of archers. Intrigued, Zheng Tienxing asked the local guides who had accompanied his scouts about these men. While they admitted the language was different from theirs, they said it was surprisingly similar and with a little work they could open a dialogue. Over the course of a month, Zheng Tingxian and Shen Jun worked to crack the language until they could make rudimentary sentences, enough to open a dialogue with the local people.

In a small patrol boat, Zheng Tingxian and Shen Jun, acting as a translator, encountered some local fishermen. Although there was some tension, the Chinese managed to explain themselves and their reasons for their visit. After the initial tension was alleviated, the Chinese asked the local fishermen about the area, namely where they were and if there were kings or emperors in the region. While these concepts were somewhat foreign to the fishermen, the Chinese managed to get the idea across and they were taken to see M'banza-Kongo, the capital of the Kingdom of Kongo.

Upon visiting the city, the Chinese, used to the magnificent structures in China, India, and Persia, were relatively unimpressed. Though, the contrast between the city and its surroundings did impress the Chinese enough to give negotiations a chance. Inside the city they met the current ruler, Nkuwu a Ntinu. After a brief introduction and some diplomatic niceties, and errors, the Chinese began discussing with the local ruler. The Chinese, however, encountered a small problem when they learned of local currency: while they used silver, the Kingdom of Kongo, alongside most of Central Africa, used shells, something that baffled them. Due to different currency, trade was slow to develop, though the Kongo people did acquire an interest in certain Chinese goods, and a type of barter trade slowly emerged. The Chinese tried to use this to acquire information on what things were like to the north and west, but unfortunately Nkuwu a Ntinu could not tell them anything useful.

Zheng Tingxian, frustrated over the lack of information the journey had produced, decided to return home, dreading the response back home. Surprisingly, on the date he chose to depart, July 13, 1462 a storm occurred and forced his fleet to return to the coast. While there were relatively light casualties and damage due to the ships more sturdy build, the storm did sink two of their equine ships, forcing the Chinese to stay by the coast to gather supplies to make repairs. To cut down on time, they asked Nkuwu a Ntinu to provide materials and supplies, which he supplied for the price of some Chinese goods, like jade tokens and porcellain, which were little more than luxuries and trinkets, though they did do for barter. As they Chinese made their repairs, Zheng Tingxian again sent scouts along the coast to the north and up the river to the east.

After seven weeks, as the Chinese had finished making repairs, their scouts returned from their trips abroad. The scouts inland reported a great river which they called Gāngguǒ hé (刚果河 literally"River of Rigid Fruit"), which stretched north then south again to the mountains, without passing much except small villages of hunter-gatherers and farmers akin to those in the mountains of Indonesia and Vietnam. Along the way they encountered several strange creatures that looked like orangutans but walked on all fours, lived on the ground, and were covered in dark fur. The patrol ships from the coast reported rumors of something called the Benin Empire which lay to the north where the coast turns westward, though these were never substantiated. Zheng Tingxian, recognizing these descriptions from his great-uncle's reports 30 years before, thought about pressing forward, which seemed to be the direction Heaven was pushing him.

After consulting with his captains, who reminded him of their now limited capacity to undergo repairs, due to two repair ships being lost, Zheng Tingxian decided to take only half of the fleet while the rest remained where they came ashore. Zheng Tingxian chose six warships, one repair ship, and three patrol ships as he travelled up the coast. Due to powerful currents, his journey north took just over a month as he reached the continental turning point his scouts reported on. After stopping to get their bearings, he sent his scouts to the west along the coast to map out the area.

The scouts returned after about seven weeks, their journey slowed by their meticulous attention to their cartographic duties. They reported that the coast extended westward and then turned abruptly north, while the current that carried them travelled westward out to the open ocean. When pressed for information on cities or states, all they could inform him on was what they had heard as rumors, though some were stronger than others, such as those on the Benin Empire as well as something called Oyo. They also heard faint whispers about the Mali Empire, which was supposed to lay farther north as the coastline turned. Zheng Tingxian decided to send his patrol ships farther north with three warships to escort them along with one supply ship while he remained at the turning point, while the Chinese looked over their charts and investigated the nearby river, which they named Nírì'ěr hé (尼日尔河 a transliteration of a local name).

Investigations along the coast showed that the Benin Empire and Oyo were small but prominent kingdoms, though the latter was considerably older than the former, so it had more of a name for itself. Zheng Tingxian decided to investigate the Benin Empire and see what he could learn. Unfortunately, linguistic difficulties kept him and Shen Jun busy, as they worked to unlock the Yoruba language, though they received some assistance from their Swahili guides due to the distant family relationship between the Swahili and Edo languages. When they finally managed to crack the code, they visited Benin city, the capital, to talk with Ewuare, the current ruling monarch.

Euware, intrigued by reports of pale men from the south, agreed to receive Zheng Tingxian and his crew as visitors. When the niceties were over, Zheng Tingxian explained that they were on a voyage of exploration to increase China's trade routes and maybe find a way to Europe around the African coast. Euware, while lacking specific knowledge of the Europeans, explained that other African kingdoms, including the Wolof Empire, had made contact with ships from Europe, specifically the Portuguese, and had entered lucrative trade relations with the Europeans. They also heard that the Europeans were seeking more direct trade with India much as China was looking for trade routes to Europe.

Zheng Tingxian, hearing this, decided to open trade with the Benin, hoping to get more information, or at least trinkets worth selling at home to show the voyages were indeed productive. The Chinese traded silk and porcelain for supplies and repairs as well as some jewelry for the Emperor. They also spent some time looking over their charts and putting the results together for future reference.

When the scout ships returned, over 34 weeks later, they brought back important information back to Zheng Tingxian from their trip north. The land along the coast turned drier, transitioning to steppe as they turned north. As they entered the transition region (probably the savanna), they encountered some travellers on camelback, who spoke a language unknown to them, though had a family resemblance to Swahili, like distant cousins. While little came of it, they memorized some words from the travellers, including something called "Jolof" and "Mali" and "Oyo", though what these meant they had no idea, though they remembered the last term from their talks with the Benin. They decided to investigate the Oyo on their way back, but they discovered the kingdom in turbluent times as Shango and Ajaka fought for control of the kingdom. When they investigated further, they learned that Oyo had become powerful through trade links with other African kingdoms and through their cavalry, much like the Mongols. However, due to the linguistic barrier, they were unable to open negotiations and estimated that it would take a lot of time to crack the language.

Zheng Tingxian, anchored in central Africa, faced a difficult choice: go forward to investigate these terms and possibly lose his fleet and the knowledge they had acquired; or turn back and return to China. Feeling he had accomplished his mission, Zheng Tingxian decided to turn back for China, after stocking up on supplies. On June 26, 1463, fully stocked, his ships turned south along the coast, stopping for supplies and repairs along the way.

Due to currents and prevailing winds, the reverse journey around Africa took longer than their journey there, over a year to reach the Swahili coast, where they waited for the summer monsoon that would return them to Indonesia and China. During their wait, they refined their map of Africa from the Arab charts of the Mediterranean they acquired years before plus their own maps. When the monsoon arrived, they found themselves visiting familiar sights, much to the relief of the crews. On January 13, 1465, they arrived home in Nanjing. Unfortunately, they arrived too late for the Chenghe Emperor, who died in his sleep just over two years before. His son, Zhu Jié took over as the Jinwu Emperor, and he was very excited to hear Zheng Tingxian's reports from his African voyages.

European Affairs

Meanwhile, rumors of the Chinese activities had travelled via the trade routes through Egypt and Arabia to Europe. One nation in particular, Portugal, realized the meaning of these rumors, if they were true, to their trade and exploration interests. Seeing the Chinese becoming so powerful, propelled the Portuguese to increase their voyages of exploration as well as expand their navy. The Romanus Pontifex, a Papal Bull written in January 8, 1455 by Nicholas V, added fuel to the fervor, by making the Portuguese actions, at least to some, a divine order from God. China's growing power over the overseas trade routes along with the Ottoman Empire's stranglehold on the overland route strengthened the appearance of European civilization being at the mercy of infidels. This accelerated military technology upgrades and naval construction as the Portuguese were determined to outfight and outclass the Ming Dynasty.

Concurrent in China, the navy, while growing larger to accommodate greater trade over greater distances, remained largely the same, though some experimented with using rockets on their ships. China's secure political and economic position allowed the Chinese to feel secure about their position, even though they in turn heard rumors of the Portuguese naval expansion. As such, Chinese military technology began to lag behind while the Portuguese pushed forward.

By 1459, Diogo Gomes, one of Portugal's leading explorers had reached Sierra Leone in West Africa and within five years, Pedro de Sintra had reached the Oyo. After several trips and establishing a dialogue, taking over three years, Pedro de Sintra asked a leader of one of the factions, Shango, what he knew of the seas to the south. Unfortunately, Shango had no idea what lay to the south, though he did hear rumors of pale men that arrived from the south, as the Benin Emperor had received a visit from them only a few years before. The only evidence for these rumors were strange, fragile yet beautiful pottery that the strangers had traded with the Benin Empire as well as ships with rectangular folding sails that local fishermen witnessed sailing along the coast. Shocked by this revelation, Pedro de Sintra asked Shango what else he knew about these pale men, though Shango knew nothing more than rumors and had no interest in investigating as he was embroiled in a fight for the Oyo leadership. Frustrated, Pedro de Sintra decided to investigate on his own, sailing south along the coast. Unfortunately for him, he discovered the powerful currents that Zheng He discovered over 30 years before, and his progress south was more difficult than he expected.

Portugal's naval expansion stirred interest throughout the European continent, but most simply noted it for later. France was reeling from the effects of the Hundred Years War with England, while her island rival was embroiled in the Wars of the Roses. The Italian states were immersed in a desperate battle to secure their trade routes against the rapidly expanding Ottoman Empire, so they had no time to get involved, though the naval advances made by the Portuguese intrigued them immensely. In their desperate struggle against the Ottoman Empire, the Italian states tried to trade with the Portuguese for their naval and military technology, though they had very little to offer, as the majority of their resources went into the military buildup in anticipation of an impending war with the Ottomans. While some in Portugal sympathized with the Italians as fellow Christians trying to repeal the encroachment of infidels on Europe, the Portuguese government, under King Afonso V and influenced by Prince Henry and his supporters, was not interested in a war with the Ottomans as it would cost them a good deal of money and they would receive little benefit from the war. A few captains, though, suggested that they hire themselves out as privateers to the Italians to raid Ottoman ships and ports, which would weaken the rapidly growing Empire, give the Portuguese navy more experience in naval combat, especially with their new ships and weapons, and it would provide Portugal with money from captured Ottoman targets. Afonso and the naval command decided to take it under consideration though their minds were still focused on India and Africa.

Meanwhile in Africa, Pedro de Sintra was travelling down the coast, stopping solely for supplies and repairs. As he was rounding the cape, 14 weeks later, he encountered a storm that forced many to seek shelter. The storm sunk two ships and severely damaged another six, cutting the fleet's strength by a third and forcing Pedro de Sintra to stop for repairs. As he scouted the area, he found the trilingual stele that Zheng He erected back in 1431. While most of the stele was indecipherable to his crew, a few of them studied Arabic and Persian and were able to translate the stele and read the message commemorating the "Son of Heaven" and the "Goddess of the Sea" for their discovery of the cape in the "Seventh Year of the Tienfu Emperor". While much of the message was puzzling to the Portuguese due to different calendars, one thing was perfectly clear: the Chinese, who were not only non-Christians, but polytheists, had reached the Cape years before their visit to the Benin Empire.

Fearing how far ahead the Chinese would be, given their headstart in voyaging and trading and Portugal's speed of technological progress, Pedro de Sintra decided to head back to Portugal to report on what he found as soon as his ships were repaired, but before departing, he smashed the stele to pieces so no one could read it. When they returned to Portugal, they reported on China's significant headstart, galvanizing the government to accelerate the naval buildup, but they soon hit a problem: their planned expansion would run them a budget deficit. While their geographical and political position, along with their large, experienced navy, gave them an edge in trade on the Atlantic, at China's (believed) power level, they would need considerable time to catch up, and they feared that China was only getting further ahead. To make matters worse, the long distance between the Sahelian kingdoms and Portugal, when compared to those between China and the Indies, meant that it would take longer for Portugal to conduct trade than the Chinese, the extremists argued.

All in all, it seemed like Portugal was in dire straits, with Ottomans to the east and Chinese to the south, until cooler heads prevailed. Diogo Gomes pointed out that no Chinese settlements were found along the West African coast nor were there any trading posts in the Benin Empire where they visited, which probably meant that they had reached the coast only recently. Thus, even if the Chinese had a large naval and technological advantage, they were in no position to threaten Portugal's interests. The relative scarcity of Chinese values seemed to indicate very recent arrival, further corroborating his point. Also, based on the reports filed from the Benin Empire and the Portuguese sailors stationed northward, there were not very many Chinese sailors in the area, indicating the Chinese were there for exploration and trading purposes, not to set up forts or posts. Finally, they exaggerated Marco Polo's description of China and in fact the distance between China and the Indies was the same as that between Portugal and the Sahel Kingdoms, so the Chinese would not get rich at the speed they claimed, undermining the extremists.

This, combined with the huge distance between Portugal and China, overseas or overland, meant that the Portuguese still had time to develop their defenses. It also meant that they had virtually the whole of the Atlantic to exploit, so they had time and logistics on their side, meaning they could breathe a little easier. Still, some, including elements of the navy, argued that the Chinese were simply building their strength, waiting for the chance to come around the cape and over the horizon onto Portugal, akin to the Mongols in Europe. Thus the extremists, while not strong enough to dictate foreign and economic policy, still held powerful influence over the naval command, the merchants and the particularly religious.

In order to placate these extremists, Afonso decided to reconsider the idea of privateering against the Ottomans, as it would provide (momentarily at least) a more immediate source of revenue, give his navy a chance to try out their new weaponry, and keep the extremists occupied. He had the artisans and architects overhaul many of his ships to improve their battle performance. He also organized battle drills to figure out their optimal strategy. Within five years, his navy had rapidly improved, though primarily tactical than technological.

This naval development came at a most opportune moment for the extremists, as the Ottoman Empire had conquered virtually all of Anatolia, Greece, the Black Sea coast, and was expanding into Europe and the Aegean. The only nation that withstood the Ottomans was Wallachia, and they had to become vassals to the Empire. Finally, the Ottoman Empire was fighting Venice in Albania. The Portuguese decided to try their new navy on the Ottomans, testing their weapons and strategies as privateers. To test them out, they opened talks with the Italian states, including Venice, regarding provisioning and maintenance of ships and crews. The Italian republics of Genoa and Naples along with the Papal States and the Kingdom of Sicily agreed to provision Portuguese ships and crews with food, supplies, repairs, and entertainment for a small portion of the wealth they captured from the Ottomans, circa 30 percent. They also opened talks with the Hafsid Dynasty in Morocco and the Mamluk Sultanate of Cairo to secure the safety of their ships as they travelled eastward across the Mediterranean, promising to avoid attacking their ships as they travelled. The local Islamic governments quickly agreed but warned the Portuguese that if they attacked any of their ships or ports, they would retaliate with deadly force.

On April 17, 1473, over 30 ships of the Portuguese Navy set sail for Naples and Sicily, stopping to receive news of the war against the Ottomans in Albania as well as stock up on supplies. The news they received made them ponder their overall strategy. The Ottomans were massing for an attack on Shkodra, a city in Venetian Albania, but for the most part, the war against Venice seemed to have slowed down. For now, the Ottomans were busy with their war against the Aq Qoyunlu in the east, meaning a naval campaign was ineffective at this point.

The Portuguese, frustrated at their bad timing, had to reconsider their plan. Some thought about running supplies to Shkodra to try to keep the city from falling to the Ottomans but the city's location made naval running a risky and inefficient endeavor. Others wanted to pillage the islands the Ottomans held in the Aegean Sea to try to distract the Ottomans from Europe. A minority wanted to sail for Constantinople and seize the capital, but they were quickly shut down for extremism. In the end, they decided to turn most of the fleet back for Portugal, seeing their navy would be of little use against the Ottomans except for running the blockade and disrupting some trade in the Aegean Sea.

The Portuguese ships that stayed behind split into two groups; one would sail for the Aegean islands and began ambushing Ottoman ships; the other, stocked with supplies, would run for the city of Shkodra and try to bloster them for the upcoming siege. Those that ran the blockade waited for the first ships to depart, to try to distract the Ottomans from those running the supplies, for they contained food, water, and, most importantly, gunpowder. After two weeks, the supply ships set sail for the Adriatic Sea and the city under seige. As they ran for the city, the rest began raiding Ottoman ships traversing the Aegean Sea. While the Ottomans had the advantage of numbers, the Portuguese ships were faster and more maneuverable. Also, the Ottoman fleet in operation, compared to the Portuguese, was relatively outdated, predominantly consisting of galleys whose greatest use was in ramming enemy ships, whereas the Portuguese had caravels and proto-carracks, which were able to outmaneuver the Ottomans and wear them down before moving in for the kill. As the Portuguese kept the Ottoman navy busy, their supply ships made several successful runs to Shkodra, bringing much needed relief to the city. Seeing their navy bested by the Portuguese, the Ottoman Sultan, Mehmed the Conqueror, ordered the shipyards in Istanbul and other ports to start building more sail ships comparable to the Portuguese. As for the fleet in the Aegean, he ordered that they pull back and regroup near Turkey to assess their losses and their tactics.

War of Castilian Succession

Meanwhile, back home in Portugal, tensions were mounting with their neighbor, Castile. The king, Henry IV, had left a succession dispute between his daughter, Joanna de Beltraneja, and his half-sister, Isabella upon his death. Further complicating the issue was the ongoing speculation that Joanna was in fact the illegitimate daughter of Beltrán de la Cueva, who was supposedly the lover of the queen of Portugal, Joan. Furthermore, Isabella, despite the restrictions imposed by the Treaty of the Bulls of Guisando, married Ferdinand II of Aragon, which was ratified by a papal bull from Pope Sixtus IV and gained the support of the Mendoza family. Upon his death, both Isabella and Joanna were proclaimed Queen of Castile by their supporters. To bloster support, Joanna married Afonso V of Portugal upon the suggestion of her followers, dragging Portugal into the dispute. Further exacerbating the conflict was the ongoing competition between Portugal and Castile over their maritine ambitions, which was intensified with Portugal's naval expansion and accelerated exploration.

On the international scene, France, seeing an opportunity to weaken her long-standing rival, Aragon, Castile's ally, attacked and occupied Roussillon, a point of contention for both kingdoms, and formerly allied herself with Joanna of Portugal, even while fighting an ongoing war with England and Burgundy. While England and the Duchy of Burgundy fought against France, they did not coordinate their efforts with Castile, so their impact was negligible, though they helped tie up French manpower and resources. Finally, despite diplomatic efforts, the Kingdom of Granada remained neutral, allowing Castile to focus her efforts primarily on Portugal.

Fighting began in May of 1475 when Afonso invade Castile and advanced on Plasencia, where he and Joanna married and their supporters joined forces. A few months later, they marched to Arevalo on their way toward Burgos, hoping to link up with King Louis XI of France. Disappointingly, he found fewer supporters than he hoped in Castile, forcing him to change his plans and instead defend the Portuguese-Castilian border and headed for the city of Toro. Ferdinand sent an army to intercept, but they arrived too late and were forced to turn back to Tordesillas due to lack of siege equipment, where the army was disbanded. Afonso took this opportunity to move to Burgos again to try to receive French support.

His efforts, however, were derailed when the Castilians launched a counter-attack on Trujillo that encouraged the garrison at Zamora to rebel against Afonso and force him to turn back to Toro. To make matters worse, the Castilian army took Burgos in January of 1476, cutting off Afonso's hope for linking with France overland.

The Battle of Toro

In February, Afonso, re-inforced by troops under Prince John of Portugal, attempted to put Zamora under seige, but the Portuguese suffered more than their besieged defenders and were forced to withdraw to Toro within a month. Ferdinand and the Castilians, sensing weakness, pursued the Portuguese to Toro and combat began just outside the city.

At Toro, Afonso and John managed to retreat in an orderly manner back to the city and soon began deploying their soldiers. Ferdinand, after reaching the city, formed his army and prepared for battle, while John did the same. Once deployed, John's forces attacked the right flank of the Castilians, forcing them to withdraw in disorder. However, while his men were ready to give chase, John held them back, not wanting to disrupt his formations.

Meanwhile, the Castilian center, under Ferdinand's command, charged the Portuguese center, led by Afonso, while their left flank attacked the Portuguese right. Taking heavy losses, the Portuguese forces began to falter, and eventually were forced to withdraw, many of them drowning as they crossed the Duero River to escape. The Castilians pursued the Portuguese to their camp and began looting, but were driven off by Prince John who attacked as they pillaged. After a brief chase, he stopped and deployed his men in a defensive position on a hill, using fires and trumpets to guide the Portuguese there. Seeing this, the Castilian commanders formed their troops  for battle, but their men refused and instead they withdrew to Zamora. John, seeing his enemies withdraw gathered his men and returned to Toro and restored the city under Portuguese control.

However, his victory would be short-lived, as many Castilian nobility that had been loyal to Joanna switched to Isabella, making the Portuguese position harder to maintain, forcing the Portuguese to seek increased foreign aid from France, eventually allying themselves with them.

Battle of Sanlucar de Barrameda

Meanwhile, as the war waged on land, so did it at sea. Castile, realizing the importance of maritine power in this war, sent their fleet to break Portugal's monopoly on the lucrative trade of the Atlantic. The Castilian fleet managed to intercept multiple ships sent to and from Guinea, Portugal's main source of commercial wealth. They also pillaged Portuguese ports and ships on the Iberian and North African coasts, disrupting Portugal's trade and influence.

To end these raids and secure their trade routes, the Portuguese fleet, under the command of Fernão Gomes was sent to escort a pair of ships heading from the Mediterranean to Guinea, hoping to lure the Castilians into battle. The Castilians, under Carlos de Valero's command, moved to intercept them at Sanlucar de Barrameda near the Straits of Gibraltar.

The battle was hard-fought as the Portuguese and Castilians were of roughly similar numbers. However, the more sophisticated ships and advanced weaponry of the Portuguese compared to the Castilians, who sailed five galleys and five caravels, as opposed to four early carracks and six caravels, managed to get the best of the Castilians. The Castilians attempted to corral the Portuguese fleet into a tight spot to set them up for their galleys to ram them. The Portuguese, however, saw this and refused to allow themselves to be cornered, trying to draw the Castilians out into the open. Valero, seeing this, sent his caravels out to intercept the supply ships, forcing Gomes to intercept his ships, bringing them in range of their guns, inflicting serious damage albeit at great cost for as the Castilians attacked one ship, another would maneuver alongside them and attack them on the broadside. To make matters worse, the battle gave the Castilian galleys time to catch up and begin ramming the caravels, sinking three of six, though these were slowed down by heavy damage. The battle, fortunately, bought Gomes enough time for his proto-carracks to arrive and, using their more advanced guns, managed to sink three of Valero's galleys, as the remaining caravels slugged it out. As the sun set, both navies mutually disengaged and left for friendlier waters, the target ships long away.

The battles of Toro and Sanlucar de Barrameda largely set the tone for the war's immediate future. While the Castilian army, having a larger population and economic base, dominated the land, the Portuguese fleet, having more advanced technology, ruled the seas, securing Portugal's financial dependency on trade with Africa. save a few raids by pirates and small groups of Castilians.

Battle of Guinea

Following their naval victory at Sanlucar de Barrameda, Afonso's negotiations with Louis XI of France were smoothly and quickly concluded with an alliance between France and Portugal against Castile, which opened with a French invasion of Fuenterrabia in the Basque region but were repelled. Ferdinand took this opportunity to mediate the dispute between the warring factions in the Kingdom of Navvare to safeguard against a future French invasion and in August concluded the Accord of Tudela, which ended the civil war. It also gave him special permission to use several forts, including Viana and Puente La Reina, to protect his northern flank against France.

Following their military drawback, Afonso tried to persuade Louis to increase French support and military involvement, but he refused as he was busy fighting the Duchy of Burgundy. However, he did send the fleet of the Norman pirate, Guillaume Coullon, to assist the Portuguese, which combined with three ships were sent to the aid of the castle at Ceuta, where they attacked a fleet of armed merchant ships and emerged victorious.

Despite this victory, the Castilian-Aragon alliance continued to gain ground with the defection of other nobles from Joanna's faction. In November 1476, the Castilians captured Toro, forcing the Portuguese to abandon their last major stronghold in Castilian territory. Over the next few months, the Castilians forced the Portuguese to abandon all the territory they gained in Castile. This reduced the war to border skirmishes and naval combat.

Despite the loss of Castilian territory, the Portuguese still held dominance over the seas, though their reign was waning as they had fewer shipyards and lower industrial capacity than their rivals. After a year and a half of rebuilding and upgrading their fleet, the Castilians dispatched a fleet of 35 ships from Andalusia for Guinea to disrupt Portugal's trade in North Africa. John, learning this, sent his own fleet of 15 ships to the Canary Islands in order to set up an ambush. When he arrived at the islands, he found that the Castilian fleet had already landed at Elmin in the Gulf of Guinea and had been trading for over six weeks and had already amassed a considerable amount of gold and slaves.

Gomes, out of greed or patriotism, decided to take out the fleet. Early in the morning, while the Castilian fleet was anchored at port, he attacked, taking them by surprise. The Castilians, anchored and drowsy, were unable to respond and within a few hours the Castilian commander, Pedro de Covides, surrendered. The gold and valuables captured by the Portuguese was a great boon to their war effort, and the loss of the fleet secured their trade relations until the Castilians could rebuild, boosting their war effort for the time being.

Final Phases and the Treaty of Alcacovas

As 1478 ended, the French, seeing little benefit gained from the war, sought a separate peace with Castile, agreeing to recognize Isabella as the legitimate queen of Castile if Ferdinand agreed to break his alliance with Maximilian I, Duke of Burgundy as well as fair arbitration of affairs regarding Roussillon. Fortunately for the Portuguese, some of the Castilian nobility in Extremaduram, La Manchua and Galicia revolted against Isabella, giving them the opening to launch a land offensive. In February 1479, under the command of Garcia de Meneses, the Portuguese occupied Extremaduram with the intent of occupying the Merida and Medellin strongholds. On February 24, Alonso de Cardenas and his troops challenged the Portuguese near the hill of Albuera and after heavy fighting forced the Portuguese to withdraw back to Merida. Though they managed to occupy both strongholds, the heavy losses meant that holding them was next to impossible and long seiges eventually forced them to withdraw.

Meanwhile at sea, the Castilians attempted to raise another fleet to sail for Guinea, but the losses they incurred left several ports vulnerable to Portuguese raids and attacks, forcing them to build along the Mediterranean coast.  As such, both sides realized they had reached a stalemate and decided to talk peace, though hostilities continued throughout the talks.

Eventually, the Treaty of Alcacovas was signed. The treaty guaranteed Portugal's predominance over north and west Africa except for the Canary Islands. Afonso renounced his claim to the Castilian throne in exchange for Isabella and Ferdinand renouncing their claim to the Portuguese crown. Joanna renounced her Castilian titles and retired to a convent while her supporters were pardoned by the throne. Finally, a marriage contract was formed between Isabella, the daughter of the Castilian monarchs, and Afonso, Prince John's son, which including a large dowry as reparations to Portugal for the war.

Mongol Tensions

Meanwhile, as war in Iberia was winding down, tensions in Mongolia were flaring up. A new challenger, Dayan Khan, the son of Mandukhai Khatun, had emerged from among the Eastern tribes and worked to establish himself as the next great khan. This, however, put him on a collision course with Esen's son, Amasanj, who had become the Oirats chief military commander and de facto leader. Esen, having died in his sleep over fifteen years before, had trained Amasanj to be a great military commander and to respect the alliance with China, which he followed to the letter. Dayan Khan, however, threatened to end that alliance as he ordered increasingly frequent and intense raids along the border. While the raiders did not penetrate deep into China, it was more through military expediency than Chinese power. To invade more deeply and attack the richer areas, as well as safeguard his western flank, Dayan Khan knew he needed the support of all of the tribes, including the Oirats. Amasanj, however, proved to be as skillful in diplomacy as he was in the military and refused to ally with Dayan Khan, partly out of tribal rivalry as well as respect of his alliance with China. He knew, however, that his refusal would probably lead to civil war, as well as the stakes for both sides, so he intended to win it at all costs. The two sides, however, were almost equal in numbers and supplies, so to gain a more decisive advantage, Amasanj turned to China for help, increasing trade and envoy missions to the Emperor in exchange for gunpowder and other weapons. The Chinese, however, did not provide all Amasanj required, for they had other priorities, though in reality they simply did not want him to win too easily for fear of creating another Mongol Empire to China's northern frontier.

The Chinese, however, did provide some of their new weaponry, in the form of new rockets and cannons, though these were experimental and more the result of tinkerers than official government policy. Still, the Emperor decided to try them out and see how effective they were, and if the Mongols were to try them out first, all the better for they would see first hand results and problems in the field. The main improvement was that the rockets had longer shafts that could penetrate thicker armor except plate armor, as well as lighter field cannons that could be hauled over longer distances, though their primary firearms were still hand cannons. These, however, were provided in relatively limited numbers to limit the chances of them being captured by Dayan Khan's forces.

In 1481, the first skirmishes erupted on the Mongol steppe as Dayan Khan and Amasanj clashed, though these were merely probing attacks designed to test each other's weaknesses, so no major engagements took place. This all changed in early summer, when Dayan Khan launched two attacks: the first a feint to some of Amasanj's green pastures to try to undermine his food supply; the second to the desert near Hami to try to cut his supply line to China, or at least delay the next shipment.

Amasanj, seeing this two-pronged attack, decided to send a runner to Hami and warn them of the attack, while he focused on defending his pasture. While he clashed with the raiders, Dayan Khan proceeded with his attack on the supply route near Hami. Meanwhile, the Chinese, anticipating trouble, had already withdrawn behind the fortifications of Hami, which had been expanded over the years from Esen's conflict with China. Upon arrival, Dayan Khan realized that the defenses were stronger than he had anticipated and withdrew. This temporary "defeat" forced him to rethink his strategy. He realized that he had three rather bad options: convince Amasanj to give up his alliance with China and join forces with him; try to undermine Amasanj's authority by convincing the Mongols under him to defect; or sue for peace with both Amasanj and China, and risk losing his authority and prestige among the Eastern tribes.

Dayan Khan's Decision

After much thought and deliberation, near the end of 1481, Dayan Khan decided to try the second option. If he could undermine Amasanj's authority, then he would not only gain the allegiance of the Mongols under his command, but he would also gain the Emperor's support, as propping Amasanj would become too expensive to maintain and would fuel the Mongol warrior spirit against them. However, in order to undermine Amasanj's authority, Dayan Khan would have to prove he was the better leader by providing more victories and/or more money for his supporters. The best way to accomplish this was to conduct successful raids in both China and Oirat territory. His primary targets included the supply lines between Hami, China's westernmost city, and Karakorum, the current capital of the Oirat Khanate.

Knowing the route would be heavily defended, he begins organizing more raids on other areas of the Chinese border in the hopes that they would be distracted and redistribute their troops elsewhere along the border. The most intense of these raids was against Ningxia, where the Mongols were able to cause serious damage to the roads and storehouses, though they were driven back by the Chinese defenders. While militarily a "defeat", the raid shook the court, who did not think the Mongols, in their divided state, would be capable of an attack like this. The hawks, akin to the deceased Wang Zhen, argued for an immediate attack on the Mongols. The Emperor and his military commanders, however, decided against it as it would cost too much and the Mongols had too much space to retreat into. Instead, he decided to increase aid to Amasanj, saying "the best ones to deal with Mongols are Mongols". To placate the hawks, as well as try to force Dayan Khan's hand, he redistributed troops to the central and eastern sections of the Wall, hoping to lure the Mongols into China and into an ambush.

Within a year, another shipment was sent to Hami, with the Chinese infantry guarding it and the cavalry scouting ahead. This shipment, however, contained more than just gunpowder ingredients (separated for safety's sake); it also contained a new type of bullet that was more conical than rounded. The bullet was inspired by the shape of arrowheads in flight by a young Chinese tinkerer, who decided to try it out on bullets, though he failed to gain much practice due to the inherent military nature of his work. Initial studies, however, showed that more conical bullets seemed to have better accuracy and range than rounded ones. The war in Mongolia turned out to be a blessing for him as he convinced the Emperor to let the Mongols try it out, though on a very limited scale. For experimental reasons, these bullets were all the same caliber and meant for hand cannons, though they differed in shape, from simply stretched into a cylinder to some that were more pointed on one side and flat on the other. Some even looked much like arrowheads, with the same shape and form. With these bullets came higher quantities of the more convenient round ones, in case none of these worked very well.

This shipment reached the city and prepared to leave for Karakorum. The caravans begin their journey to Karakorum, with diplomats, explorers and soldiers in the group. Large carts pulled by horses, mules and camels, were built in Hami to send the supply of gunpowder and firearms, as well as Mongol goods, such as ginseng and sable from Manchuria and Mongol horses, sheep and cows. As the caravans reached Lake Khutag Nuur and the Chinese pitched camp, dozens of Mongol cavalrymen appeared and rode around the Chinese camp. After half an hour, the Chinese soldiers became quite irritated and annoyed because they could not rest in fear of the Mongols attacking. Hence, the Chinese brought out their cannons and hand cannons to banish the Mongols. The Mongols, after seeing the large arsenal of weaponry, retreated. However, although they were first seen retreating East to Amasanji's territory, they turned their way to Dayan Khan's territory after the Chinese were asleep. In truth, Dayan Khan, after hearing about this new Chinese shipment, sent a small group of cavalrymen to probe and inspect the Chinese caravans - if the group was small, Dayan Khan would raid immediately, but if it was protected by adequate weaponry, Dayan would have to wait until he had organized a large enough force.

On February, 15th, 1482, the Chinese caravans reached Buuntsagaan Lake. The Chinese pitched camp beside the Lake, as they let their horses out to eat the green and fresh grass beside the river. The Chinese soldiers, diplomats and explorers starts putting up camps beside the Lake. Suddenly, the cavalry, which was supposed to pitch camp a Li beside the Lake, runs back to the camp. Zhang Ting Fun, the general of this small regiment immediately inquires the cavalry about any enemies. The cavalry replied that there is a large Mongol cavalry army closing in, with estimated at least 1,000 soldiers. Zhang Ting Fun quickly begins forming a defensive wall around the caravans. Moreover, hand cannons and cannons were put into place. However, a Chinese soldier, while taking some round bullets for their hand cannons, accidently took a large crate of arrowhead bullets. 

The Skirmish at Buuntsagaan Lake

After an hour, the Mongol army, led by Dayan Khan, appeared. Zhang Ting Fun, immediately estimated that there were around 3,000 enemies. On the other hand, there were only 1,800 Chinese soldiers. Dayan Khan organized his army into a group of 1,400 and another of 1,600 cavalry, which was later split into two. To soften the Chinese for the attack, he ordered his horse archers to circle the Chinese caravans, making sure to stay on the outer edge of their arrows' range, well outside the typical range of the Chinese hand-cannons. Zhang Ting Fun, understanding the Mongols' plan, ordered his men to use the wagons as cover from the Mongol arrows, as well as to set up their cannons and artillery for the anticipated charge following the volley.

Dayan Khan ordered his men to begin their attack, and sent messengers to bring up his own artillery and infantry. His men circled the Chinese, unleashing volley after volley of arrow fire, with a twist. To increase the effectiveness of his attack, he had his men use fire and regular arrows, to attack the more important resource: the caravan's supplies, knowing that a well-placed fire arrow could destroy the vital gunpowder stores, and kill many Chinese soldiers at the same time. Zhang Ting Fun, knowing his likely target, ordered his men to guard the gunpowder by using moist rags, wetted only from the lake, to cover the crates and to put out the fires.

The battle raged all day and through the night, as Dayan Khan only sent half of his horse archers at first, and saved the other half for night. Zhang Ting Fun, similarly, did the same, though it took a higher drain on his troops than on Dayan Khan's due to their lower numbers. Realizing time was against him, Zhang Ting Fun had his men light beacons as a desperate plea for help, hoping that either the Chinese garrison at Hami or Amasanj and his forces at Karakorum.

This ongoing battle lasted for over five days. While Zhang Ting Fun lost less than one hundred men from the barrage itself, as his supplies slowly dwindling, as were the morale of his men. While he had managed to preserve his gunpowder stores, his food and water supplies, due to the perpetual fighting and the high heat, were quickly being depleted. Being unable to strike back at their tormentors only made morale worse, as he refused to use his artillery until the Mongols charged, knowing that every shot had to count if he were to make a difference.

Fortunately for Zhang Ting Fun, he was about to get a break, for Dayan Khan received word from his messenger that Amasanj's scouts, having seen the beacons the first night, had reported the Chinese situation and he launched his own attacks on Dayan Khan's re-inforcements and supplies, delaying them in a series of ambushes and guerrilla raids. The commander in charge attempted to push through, but as the ambushes continued unabatted, his progress slowed down and eventually he was forced to turn back when his own supplies of gunpowder were nearly wiped out. Knowing his artillery would be useless without gunpowder, he decided to pack what was left and use it for hand-cannons, and march the rest of the infantry to the site once the casualties, dead and injured, were dealt with.

This information forced Dayan Khan to reevaluate his plan. Without artillery, a frontal charge, even with numerical superiority, would be suicidal. Also, with Dayan Khan's re-inforcements weakened and his supply lines undermined, Amasanj would be able to strike at his position now and force him to fight an uneven battle, and possibly end the war here and now with his death or capture. Without re-inforcements or supplies, Dayan Khan had only one viable option: retreat before Amasanj could reach him and fight another day. Two questions, however, plagued his thoughts: where was Amasanj and what was his strength? If he moved in the wrong direction, he could just as easily have ended up in a trap or an ambush. While the reports indicated that Amasanj had a strike force of comparable size to his own, he knew that Amasanj would not use the full force at his disposal for mere raids and was probably keeping the majority for later.

Before he could retreat, he had to figure out where Amasanj was before he could move. To try to find out, he sent scouts outward to see where Amasanj and his men had gone. Two days later, his men returned and reported that Amasanj had been attacking the caravans and re-inforcements from the northeast and seemed to be massing for an attack to his northern flank, meaning that he would be sandwiched between the Chinese defenders if he tried to fight. Suspecting that Amasanj would post men to the north of the supply lines, he ordered the commander of his re-inforcements to head south and prepare to receive him as he withdrew, to prevent an ambush while he retreated eastward. Fearing the Chinese would attack him as he made his retreat, he ordered his men to prepare for battle, with the objective being to cover his retreat. Briefly, he contemplated opening negotiations with Zhang Ting Fun for an unmolested retreat, though he quickly realized opening negotiations might make him seem weak and in fact harden the Chinese for battle rather than entice them to co-operate. Instead, he gave his men strict orders to avoid attacking the Chinese lines. On the other side of the battlefield, Zhang Ting Fun, seeing the Mongols preparing to withdraw, ordered his men to not interfere unless the Mongols came around for a new attack. With tacit consent on both sides, Dayan Khan and his cavalry rode eastward to fight another day.

Amasanj and his force arrived hours later, too late to fight Dayan Khan but with enough time and supplies to help their Chinese allies. After a short rest, the Chinese caravan resumed its course to Karakorum, its supplies of money, gunpowder, and new ammunition safe and sound. However, the skirmish forced some important changes in the war: it forced Amasanj to devote more time to guarding the caravans from China, meaning that Dayan Khan was freer to attack his pastures and other important sites, undermining his authority among the Mongol tribes. It also made the court wonder how to proceed with the caravans: if Dayan Khan could hit them with seeming ease, then would not the Mongols begin to shift increasingly to Dayan Khan? If so, was the price of supporting Amasanj worth it? Some argued for switching allegiance to Dayan Khan, while others argued that historical precedent, including the case of Genghis Khan, showed that that was a very bad idea and that instead they should increase China's involvement to weaken Dayan Khan. The Emperor, knowing the lessons of history, decided to increase financial and material aid to Amasanj as well as mobilize Chinese troops to the northern border.

The Final Phases

Over the next few years, Dayan Khan and Amasanj played a hit-and-run game with one another, both sides trying to undermine the other by attacking their supplies and their prestige as leaders. While Amasanj had the advantage of Chinese technology and support, Dayan Khan held a slight numerical advantage of three to two. Due to their near parity of strength, Amasanj attempted to gain further Chinese support to try to tip the scales in his favor so he could deliver a final decisive campaign against Dayan Khan. However, the Chinese were preoccupied, building their forces to the east, though they did increase shipments of gunpowder and explosives, as well as money to help subsidize the war effort. Still, it was not enough for what Amasanj had in mind, and he had to content himself with the ongoing guerrilla-style attacks.

Both sides soon realized that diplomacy would be critical to victory: whoever could gain the most allies, and maintain their alliances longest, would be able to outmaneuver and outnumber the other and thus force them to submit. Accomplishing this, however, required a decisive campaign against one side to maintain morale among one's troops and allies.

In early March 1484, Amasanj and the Jinwu Emperor formed a bold plan to defeat Dayan Khan. The first step was a series of raids into the Chahar territories launched by Chinese cavalry blostered by Mongol horsemen living inside the Ming Empire. These cavalry men were armed predominantly with bows and arrows for offense, while a small but rather mobile corp of infantry provided defensive cover with rocket batteries. Employing hit and run tactics, these horsemen made quick surprise attacks on pastures, camps, and supply depots before retreating back to China. Over the next 17 months, the raids continued virtually unabated, focused primarily on the Chahar Mongols.

While these raids did not do much damage, except for the loss of animals, weapon stores and some key Mongol camps, the attacks had a significant economic impact on the Chahar Mongols, who bore the brunt of the raids. Also, while the Chinese were heavily outnumbered, the Chahar were unable to defeat them, even when they were fighting on their home territory, draining their morale and pushing them farther into the Chinese camp. In order to placate them, Dayan Khan decided to launch a punitive offensive into Ningxia and Gansu province, which reduced the frequency and the intensity of the raids considerably, albeit at the cost of pulling troops and supplies from his front with Amasanj.

This was what Amasanj and the Emperor were waiting for. With Dayan Khan busy elsewhere, Amasanj launched a multi-pronged attack on the Khalka Mongols, his men armed with high piles of Chinese rockets and cannons. With Chinese raiders to the south, and Amasanj gaining ground in the west, Dayan Khan decided to take out Amasanj first. When he turned his attention westward, the Chinese renewed their attacks, though this time, they came in much greater numbers and almost annihilated the Chahar Mongols' military capacity, forcing them to turn against Dayan Khan and seek a treaty with China. In exchange for food and supplies, the Chahar gave the Chinese cavalry key information on Dayan Khan and enabled them to hit him in critical targets.

With the defection of the Chahar Mongols, other tribes threatened to follow suit unless Dayan Khan sued for peace. While Amasanj wanted to continue and smash Dayan Khan into the dust, the war and his last campaign drained his military strength, so he agreed to negotiate with Dayan Khan.

In the Treaty of Karakorum, Dayan Khan renounced his claims to rule the Mongol Empire and reverted back to his given name Bantumongke. A border was established between the two Khans, essentially breaking Mongolia into two parts and drastically cutting Bantumongke's resource base, so he could not become a threat to China or to Amasanj for some time. Finally, Bantumongke had to pay a tribute to China and to Amasanj in reparation for the war, including his finest war horses and his daughter's hand in marriage to the Emperor's son. The treaty signed, peace returned to the steppe. Unfortunately for the Emperor, he contracted a fever and died by the end of the year. His son, Zhu Mǎzǐ, was coronated as the Jiazheng Emperor in early January.

Encounters with Portugal

Meanwhile, as China was preoccupied with the Mongols, the Portuguese, under the leadership of Vasco da Gama had reached the Indian Ocean by November 1481, the Somali coast by March 1482 and the coast of southern India by July 1482. Seeing the Chinese in Diu presented a challenge to the Portuguese, as they now confirmed their suspicions of being in competition with China, and from what they overheard, the Chinese had posts from Diu to the Spice Islands, so they had a stake and a hand in virtually every trade venture going on. Furthermore, over the years, the Chinese merchants had expanded their business connections to include a piece of everything, from ship construction to jewelry to alcohol production to gambling, so no matter what the Portuguese did, the Chinese would get a piece of it. Fortunately, there was great demand for European goods among Indian and Southeast Asian merchants, though the Chinese merchants viewed them with mild indifference for the most part, with the only exception being their firearms, which they gave significant sums to obtain. Most of these matchlocks they studied and reverse engineered to make more, which they sold to local rulers for tremendous profit. This put them in competition with the Portuguese, who also wished to sell their weapons, though the great distance from their manufacturing sites compared to the Chinese merchants gave them a slight advantage over the Europeans. While they competed for patrons in some areas, for the most part, they managed to get along, with the Chinese focused on Southeast Asia and the Portuguese in India, save for Diu.

One key patron of the matchlock trade was a navy commander by the name of Zheng Jun, the great-grandson of Zheng He's brother, and a nigh perfect match of his legendary ancestor. He almost immediately recognized the superiority of matchlocks over hand cannons, due to their greater accuracy, stability and range. During the Mongol conflict, he lobbied for the court to adopt these weapons in place of their hand cannons, but he was turned down due to their limited numbers and he was forced to wait until the armorers could produce a suitable number of them. By the time there were sufficient quantities, however, the conflict was over, so the court saw no need for these new weapons, frustrating the captain to no end. Attempts to appeal to the Emperor were similarly useless, as the Jinwu Emperor had already died and his son was supremely confident in China's might. On the bright side, he encountered the artisan that created the arrowhead bullets, giving him the chance to try them with the matchlocks, and saw an even greater improvement in range and accuracy than either alone, though even more was desired as the performance was better but not as much as he would have wanted. Still, the new guns impressed him enough to issue one for each of his sailors, with enough ammunition for all, though only enough for one intensive battle.

Zheng Jun also recommended an analysis of the navy, especially when he saw the design of the caravels and carracks the Portuguese used. Unsure of how his ships would stack up against them in a fight, he wanted to build similar ships and test them out against the imperial war junks, but the court ruled him out as an alarmist and refused to fund his request, though he still gained some allies among the naval command and even some members of the court, who promised to consider it and try to bring it up for debate again at another time, though that was all they did.

By 1495, the Portuguese had established a trading presence in southern India centered on the Vijayanagara Empire, whose de facto leader, Tuluva Narasa Nayaka, had managed to restore a measure of stability to the declining Empire, but was plagued by continued conflict with the Bahamani Sultans and the Gajapatis as well as rebellious chieftains. The Portuguese offered not only money, in trade, but also a new military advantage, in their matchlocks and their cannons, albeit for a price. This, however, did not sit well with the Kingdom of Kotte, whose king Parakramabahu VIII, feared their growing military influence in the region, along with the potential that they may form an alliance with the Jaffna Kingdom, and sought assistance from Ming China. Unfortunately, the court was relatively uninterested in arming for a confrontation with the Portuguese, so nothing material came from it, though Zheng Jun continued, albeit privately, contemplating how to best deal with the Portuguese if they became too adventurous.

For the most part though the Chinese and the Portuguese interacted quite well together as trade was more profitable than conquest due to the larger Chinese navy and shorter supply lines they enjoyed, so any overt attempt by the Portuguese to forcibly impose their power would have been folly. Thus, they avoided antagonizing the Chinese and even prepared to send a diplomatic envoy to pay tribute to the Emperor.

Spanish Conquests and English Discoveries

Concurrent with the affairs between the Portuguese and the Ming, Ferdinand and Isabella of Castile had invaded the Emirate of Granada and in 1492 had conquered the last Islamic state in Europe, completing the Reconquista. However, the conquest proved to be a rather hollow victory, as Portuguese control over the sea trade routes had rendered Granada relatively insignificant economically. The devastation of their ports combined with the bankruptcy of the treasury from their failed naval missions during the War of Castilian Succession hindered their naval recovery, and the first priority of their restored navy was to re-establish contact with the Canary Islands in order to build trading posts and ports for their ships, which would in turn enable them to get a piece of the North Atlantic trade to facilitate a financial recovery. The need to upgrade the ships to Portuguese standards slowed the naval recovery, so the throne's naval objectives were delayed by several years. While this did not hinder their military actions against the Emirate of Granada, it proved infinitely frustrating to one Italian navigator, Christopher Columbus, in his attempts to lobby the court for funding.

Fortunately for Columbus, his brother Bartholomew, stationed in France, was about to give him a break. After much deliberation and lobbying from Bartholomew, supported by John Cabot who shared Christopher's ideas, Henry VII had commissioned for Christopher to sail a fleet of ships across the Atlantic in the, albeit highly, slim chance that he could connect directly to the Indies and China and bypass the Portuguese. The fleet, consisting of five caravels, set sail August 1, 1495, heading west, to bypass the Iberian fleets though this put them in conflict with the trade winds. Originally Christopher wanted to sail due southwest to more directly meet the Spice Islands, but then decided to travel due west, following the routes of the Vikings and coastal fishermen, who spoke of the Grand Banks, which he believed to be Asia.

Over the next nine weeks, as Columbus made his way farther west, dwindling supplies began to erode the morale of his crew. As the supplies of fresh fruit declined, scurvy set in, draining his men's energy and morale. After a rough storm severely damaged one ship and killed over 23 men, the crew began to contemplate turning back, even if it meant mutiny.

Fortunately for Columbus, he received a break when a lookout spotted birds on the horizon, which usually meant land, meaning food and water. Believing that he had at last reached Asia, or at least was close, he ordered his men to follow the birds, and in the early hours of October 8, his men spotted a forest stretching to the north and south. Cautiously but energetically, Columbus ordered his ships to head to land, where he and about 18 of his men departed in their boats and headed to the shore to forage for food, water and wood. One little surprise for them was that their approach to shore, both in the boats and the ships, was slowed, akin to running aground, but upon closer inspection they saw that it was in fact huge schools of cod, which the sailors immediately took to fishing, eager for fresh food.

Upon arrival, they quickly found a stream and set about filling their canteens with clear, fresh water, but not before drinking their fill. After filling their canteens to capacity, they returned to their ships, taking careful notes on the trees and shrubs, for future reference. Upon returning, the sailors drank their fill and ate fresh fish, an immediate boost to their morale and their supplies. The next day, Columbus arranged for the ships to get closer to the shore before departing again in the boats to retrieve wood for repair materials, as well as any fresh vegetation to combat scurvy.

While their search for edible vegetation was hampered by their unfamiliarity with the area, they soon found several pounds of berries and wild vegetables. Their search for wood, however, presented a challenge as they had to shape the wood to be useable, forcing Columbus to consider scuttling the badly damaged ship. He decided to try to salvage the ship, as they needed repair materials anyway, though his subordinates only belatedly obeyed.

Over the next few weeks, as his men gathered wood, food and water for their continued journey, Columbus and his navigator explored the coastal area and drew a rudimentary map. They also discovered some of the local peoples. As the men were surverying the coast, they saw men fishing in canoes. After a brief but tense moment when they locked eyes on each other, the English sailors quietly, cautiously turned back, but kept a close eye on the fishermen. They reported back to Columbus, who contemplated opening a dialogue with the natives in an attempt to gather information on the land and the sea beyond.

The next day, Columbus, along with several of his men, including a multilingual Arab trader, set off to find the locals. After following the coast for several hours, they discovered a small camp comprised of triangular huts, covered in birch bark with smoke escaping from the top. The people were initially wary of Columbus and his men but eventually opened trade with him, though there was very little actual trade going on, as the Beothuk had little the sailors found interesting or worthwhile, save some furs and trinkets which were exchanged for metal tools, including pots, pans and fish hooks. Unfortunately, the linguistic gap proved too much for Columbus to cross and not much save the limited trade was accomplished. Columbus, however, decided to take some locals back with him to impress Henry VII, sparking a brief, violent tussle, though the Europeans superior weapons gave them the military and psychological edge, allowing Columbus to return to his ship with four captives.

Satisfied with the progress he had made, Columbus prepared to set sail for home, though they had to go without the damaged ship, as they had no real luck trying to repair it and had instead salvaged it for parts. On November 4, 1495, Columbus and his remaining ships departed for England. Six weeks later, they arrived in Bristol, where they departed for London to present their findings to Henry VII. While Columbus did not bring back the coveted spices or silk, he brought back furs, something that was of near equivalent value. Their furs convinced Henry and his court to finance more expeditions as well as consider the possibility of colonization. By July 14, 1497, Columbus set sail again to the west, this time with ten ships. Concurrent with him, John Cabot also set sail, but in a more southernly route. Within eight weeks, he returned to the Grand Banks and began exploring the coast farther west. He also tried to re-estabish contact with the locals he met earlier, but they proved too elusive for him and he gave up and continued his explorations westward into a large body of water dotted with several islands stretching northeast to southwest (OTL Magdalen Islands). Columbus split his fleet into five pairs and ordered them to map the islands with meticulous care. After mapping the islands, they travelled along the coast to map the area. After nearly a month of mapping the bay and the islands, they discovered a river flowing from the southwest, which Columbus decided to explore on a later date while he compiled the maps he and his crewmen made of the bay, which they named the Gulf of Saint Wenceslaus, after the saint of the day they found the bay, September 28. While they explored the area, they took time to try to find traces of the locals, though the rough terrain and heavy forest cover eventually forced them to turn back, but they managed to encounter several fishermen along the coast and the river. Attempts to open negotiations proved difficult as the natives, as in the case of the Grand Banks, could not understand English or any European languages, and attempts to use terms heard from the islanders on his first voyage were equally fruitless. Over three weeks, they managed to open a dialogue, mainly through trade, exchanging furs and local trinkets for metal tools, and on the last day of exchanges, Columbus, as he did on his first voyage, kidnapped several of the natives to bring back to England. After refilling his stocks, Columbus set sail for England on October 21, 1497.

Meanwhile, John Cabot had arrived farther south, in cool but more humid area. The beaches soon gave way to forest with broadleaf and coniferous trees. John Cabot set out to shore to find food and water to refill his stocks, as well as to find signs of human habitation, as he was under orders to establish contact with the locals. He quickly discovered tracks, which were estimated to be between two to five days old, leading from the shore into the woods. Making a note to follow those tracks, John Cabot returned to his ships with wild fruits and vegetables, and plenty of water. The next day, he began following the tracks, though the unfamiliar terrain slowed him down. By midday Cabot and his men had barely sight of the beach and had failed to find the inhabitants. Not wishing to lose sight of his ships, he turned back. Back on his ship, Cabot decided to explore farther down the coast, hoping to find fishermen or fishing sites, and to avoid another grueling, and disorienting, adventure into the forest. Moving along the coast, they found several potential fishing sites, but nothing to indicate recent activity. They also found a river flowing from the northwest and Cabot decided to explore it via some of his boats. He quickly discovered its very erratic course, as well as some more recent of human activity, which indicated a migration from the coasts to the mountains, though the rough terrain and the erratic river course convinced Cabot not to pursue it further. After exploring farther south for another two weeks, they finally encountered some fishermen along the coast and attempted to open a dialogue, though as with Columbus, it took a while. After three weeks, they eventually settled on a system of exchange, trading furs and trinkets in exchange for metal tools. On November 23, Cabot decided to head home to England, though he managed to obtain several natives prior to his departure.

Upon their arrival, both Columbus and Cabot were summoned to see King Henry, who was quite impressed with their diplomatic and commercial success, and noted the apparent migration from the coast to the inland. This presented two potential scenarios: if it was seasonal, as preliminary talks with the captured natives seemed to indicate, then they could time the next voyage to arrive in summer and increase their chances of successful contact; if it was non-seasonal, unlikely as the possibility was, then the English would have to wait longer or work harder to establish contact. Henry decided to gamble on the former and arranged for Columbus and Cabot to return to their respective areas, though they would depart in late winter rather than summer as they had previously done, to see what results they received.

Meanwhile, following Columbus' return from his first voyage, his crewmen had told stories of their adventures and their discoveries, which spread through England and into France and the Netherlands. From here they spread farther into Spain and Portugal, and eventually even China. Following Columbus' second voyage and Cabot's first, the stories helped inspire people in England to continue the voyages and perhaps follow through with colonization. While such thoughts were entertained elsewhere in Europe, not many followed through, as France was embroiled in another war in Italy, Portugal was more focused on India, though Spain, now having consolidated power over the Canary Islands, began pursuing her own voyages of exploration.

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