The Andes, South America, 1527
I. THE SUN MAIDEN
The Inca, Huayna Capac – lord of the Four Quarters – died while on campaign. At the head of his ever-victorious army, festooned with brilliantly-dyed feathers, he had plunged into the steaming jungles beyond the Andes, beyond the northernmost city of the Empire, Quito. He did not fall in battle, however: it was sickness that laid him low. Swarming with mosquitoes, full of slithering snakes and scratching beetles, vampire bats, and poisonous frogs and lizards, the jungle was a dangerous place – it was quicksand, grass sharp enough to cut flesh, voracious ants, dangling creepers, steaming rot, and pestilence.
The Inca’s fever, accompanied by an odd rash, left his physicians baffled. Some feared an epidemic had broken out when the Inca’s favourite wife and eldest son also died. Even so, the royal embalmers set to work immediately. Well aware that the humidity would bring on decay at once, they embalmed the bodies of the ruler, consort, and prince, carefully cutting out their hearts and removing their internal organs, which were claimed by the Gods. Then the corpses were placed on a gilded litter, in a seated position, with their hands tied across their chests, and carried home, sheltered by a tasselled canopy.
Atahualpa, who was one of Huayana Capac’s adult sons, at once consulted with his father’s generals, Chalcuchima, Quizquiz, and Rumiñavi.
“Huascar, your half-brother, is at Cuzco,” Chalcuchima said, addressing Atahualpa. “The Sapac Inca’s remains must be taken to the mausoleum-hall of his ayllu. Appropriate offerings must be made at the Temple of the Sun. But Huascar will take the fringe for himself.”
Atahualpa pondered his general’s sage words for a few moments. The fringe was a special head-band, profusely decorated with tassels that dangled down over the eyes – it was the special headdress worn only by the reigning Sapac Inca.
“Now that my brother is dead, too, I am the eldest son of the Sapac Inca,” Atahualpa said, frowning. He was thirty years old that year, six years older than Huascar. However, he did not need to remind the three generals of this.
“You were the Sapac Inca’s son by his cousin,” Rumiñavi reminded him. “Huascar will claim he has greater legitimacy, being the son of a sister-wife.”
“Huascar has the priests, but we have the army,” Quizquiz said, and he did not have to say more. Eleven Sapac Incas had ruled the land in succession, but few had taken the fringe without a fight, or at least a palace coup. The empire was orderly and predictable, except on those rare occasions when rival brothers fought for control. The Incas had no external enemies capable of attacking them, and yet the empire bristled with fortifications – defences raised primarily against each other.
“Send Cusi Tupac Yapanqui to Cuzco with your father’s corpse,” Chalcuchima urged. “Meanwhile, you must go establish yourself at Quito.”
Cuzco, the royal city, was sixteen hundred miles away, but the royal litter-bearers made the journey with solemn dignity, accompanied by thousands of soldiers and attendants. Leaving the jungle, they proceeded along the stone-paved royal road, which snaked through the mountains, zigzagging up the nearly vertical slopes of mountains, rising across high passes, sometimes striking out straight as an arrow’s flight across high, desiccated plateaus. With every change in elevation, the scenery was completely altered. At the top of the mountains, the atmosphere was so thin that the soldiers chewed their rations of coca leaves to help them breathe and endure the pain of marching for hours on end in such thin air. Soon, however, they were descending to the high, grassy slopes where the llamas grazed, making their way down into the Quechua – the biome of high, level valleys that nestled between the eastern and western mountains, or, as the Inca called them, the White and Black Mountains.
The Inca made his last journey through the rich farmlands of the Quechua, following the royal road past fields of maize and beans. Here and there, terraced fields climbed some distant hill under snow-capped mountains. Here and there, the stone-paved road came to a chasm. The smaller canyons were filled with rubble, upon which the level surface of the road was laid, but the deeper gorges – thousands of feet deep, some of them – could be crossed only by means of bridges made of rope. And everywhere the procession travelled, the people lined the road, bowing their heads and groaning as the Inca’s soldiers walked quietly through them. In contrast to the commoners, who wore simple but modest clothes, the soldiers almost seemed gaudy in their dyed alpaca garments, each unit’s attire bearing a peculiar pattern that designated its ethnicity. At long last, resplendent and colourful, the Inca’s procession entered the royal city of Cuzco.
Illari was a girl, about fifteen years old. Until she was ten, she had lived with her parents, who were weavers, but in that year she was selected by the district chief to become a Chosen Woman. She was brought to the sanctuary of the Sun Maidens at Cajas, and there initiated into a new way of life. The Moon Priestesses told her that, as a Sun Maiden, she might become a nobleman’s wife, or the consort of the Inca, or even a Moon Priestess in her own right. Meanwhile, she was to learn how to weave special royal garments from vicuña wool, and chew maize so that she could spit her saliva into the great cauldrons in which chincha was fermented to provide a pleasant drink for the lords and libations for the Earth Mother.
“Chosen Women are selected for their perfection,” she was told by the Moon Priestesses. “Special you are – above all others. The Incas, Children of the Sun, touch only what is perfect.”
Illari was sent for by the Sun Priests: she was dressed in the most beautiful cloak she had ever seen and carried in a litter to Cuzco, hundreds of miles away. A chosen boy also was selected, dressed like her, and they were referred to as if they were husband and wife, although Illari had never known a man, and the boy was younger even than her. In fact, they did not know each other, and never spoke. At Cuzco, there was a vast assembly in the square, and rituals at the great Sun Temple she could not quite comprehend. There were boys and girls there from all over the Four Quarters, a matching couple from each district. A new Sapac Inca took the fringe, conferred upon him by the Priest of the Sun. Illari heard that his name was Huascar.
And then her journey began – a curious journey, for they set out in a straight line, and followed it, regardless of the terrain encountered. Because she was older, she had to walk – climb, at some points – always accompanied by the priests, who spoke encouraging, gentle words. They gave her coca leaves to chew, to numb the pain, especially when they began to climb high into the White Mountains.
They climbed for days, literally, until they could scarcely breathe. It was cold: the sky was clear and blue, the world reduced to boulders, permanent snow, and jumbled piles of ice. The coca leaves helped, though, leaving her dizzy and euphoric. Her last meal had been simple and fortifying – quinoa and some vegetables. She felt a little hungry, but the priests insisted that they keep going. Eventually, they said, “Far enough this is.”
“Hanan Pacha, this is?” Illari asked, referring to the Upper World, the abode of the Sun and Moon, and the God of Thunder and Lightning, Illapa.
The priest said nothing, at first, but when he spoke took a deep breath, troubled-looking: “Toward the east, now you must face....”
Illari gazed around. She could see a small, stone-walled temple built in this wilderness – in all directions the world seemed to consist only of mountains, each peak cradling a vast glacier. The priest manoeuvred her into the proper position, for she was too befuddled by the coca to remember her instructions. She looked up into the clear blue sky, her glazed eyes dazzled by the sun – Inti, the Sun God, the husband of the Moon. The very thought pleased her, although she wondered what had happened to the boy who had come with her, and she smiled as the priest behind her struck her head with a bat, knocking her to the ground, dead.
II. TWO OLD FRIENDS
“Here I am, a foundling, the son of God knows who and some whore, probably, and you, a bonafide hidalgo’s bastard from Trujillo – and we’re going to ask the Emperor for a license to conquer an empire that only exists in our imaginations?”
“At least I didn’t have to leave Spain on the next ship because I’d killed some fool in a bar fight,” retorted Francisco Pizarro, smirking at his friend and business partner, Diego de Almagro.
The two men were sitting upstairs in Almagro’s breezy house on the central plaza in the hardscrabble little town of Nuestra Señora de Asunción de Panama. The walls were built of blocks of coral rock, hastily and none-too-skilfully mortared together and plastered. The roof over the heads, however, was still thatched. So it was with the whole settlement: the fort was still a stockade, although stone walls were being raised, and other workers were toiling to raise up a proper cathedral. Most of the pueblo’s houses were mere huts made of logwood, canes, and thatch.
“Now,” Pizarro added, “you know as well as I that it was no imagined enemy who took your eye.”
Almagro shrugged, although the loss of his eye was real enough. If only he had known, in advance, that Pizarro had been repulsed by the Burnt Village Indians, he might have saved himself the aggravation of trying to assault the place. The village, seemingly abandoned, had been a trap.
“That raft wasn’t imaginary, either,” Pizarro said, reminding his friend of the balsa-wood boat they had encountered.
Twenty men had been on the boat when it was sighted, well off shore, hundreds of miles south of Panama. Eleven had leapt into the sea, but nine remained, cringing as the Spanish sailors quickly overtook them, Six of the hapless men were set ashore, but three boys were retained and brought back to Panama to learn Spanish,
“I know the argument,” Diego de Almagro replied. “No primitives built a raft like that, or stocked it with such rich trade goods.”
“Don’t forget the camels,” Pizarro said. “Or sheep – or whatever the damned things are.”
The woolly beasts, with their long necks, had been the first clue, really, that something different lay to the south, somewhere along the unknown coast. Pizarro had seen images of them carved into rocks when he and Balboa first had set foot on this side of the Isthmus of Panama. Gold trinkets had been found, too – not many, but of exquisite workmanship. At that time, fifteen years ago, nothing quite like these objects had been found in all of the hundreds of Indian villages the Conquistadors had raided.
But the real prize had been the city of Tumbez, and it was a proper city, not some stockade screening a handful of huts. Pizarro had no words to describe what they had seen: massive mud walls, thousands of thatched hovels, to be sure, but splendid mansions, temples, and warehouses. The people wore clothing and demonstrated modesty, manners, and a sense of civility, although they laughed and marvelled at their first sight of two strange men, one white and one black. Two of Pizarro’s men, enchanted by the new society they had found, volunteered to remain behind and learn the language and the local customs. Although it had been impossible to carry on a proper conversation with the people of Tumbez, Pizarro had seen and heard enough to realize that he and his men had just made contact with the outskirts of an extensive, rich, and powerful Indian empire.
“My second cousin, Cortes, conquered the Aztecs,” Pizarro reminded his friend, who nodded. “If there are such cultures among the Indians as the Aztecs and Mayans, why should there not be others?”
“I’ve seen some of the Mexican plunder... and the carvings of the Mayan pagans. These items we’ve found are at least as good, maybe better.”
No more needed to be said, at the moment. Their conversation turned, instead, to practical matters.
“There’s no way I can go back to Spain: I’d be arrested as soon as I set foot on shore. My past might foil our plans,” Almagro laughed, listening to his wife yelling at their son, downstairs. “Mozo’s growing up,” he added, thoughtfully.
Ana Martinez was Almagro’s woman – not exactly a wife. She was one of the hundreds of people he and Pizarro had captured in their various entradas, or exploratory raids. Almagro had found her cringing under ferns, in the jungle, naked and eating fruit; now she wore clothes, like a Spanish doña, considering herself a caciqa presiding over the household slaves.
“By the time you return, Mozo will be old enough to come with us. You go to court, Francisco. You at least know who your father was. You haven’t killed anyone, as far as I know, and you’re related to Cortes. I’ll look after our property.”
Both of them had come out to Castilla de Oro with Dávila’s armada, and being loyal tenientes, and among the villa of Panama’s first settlers, they had been granted encomiendas, or the right to exploit native labour. Pizarro held the encomienda of Isla de Taboga, one of the many islands dotting the Gulf of Panama, Almagro held the cacicazgo of Susy together with a small encomiendero, and their partner, the priest Hernando de Luque, held the cacicazgo of Perequete. Thus, they were lords of a few Indian villages, and they could requisition the labour of nearly two hundred natives, by feudal right of conquest. Some of the encomienda Indians tended the cattle herds that occupied their lands, but mostly they were expected to dive for pearls and prospect for gold. The natives were wonderfully clever about finding and recovering minute quantities of gold from sandy jungle river beds, one small nugget at a time, but they were only just learning to value these rare pebbles as mineral wealth.
When all was settled between the two old warriors, wine was called for – a welcome if rather expensive, imported taste of home.
“We’ve been out here a long time,” Pizarro remarked. “I’ve been on more entradas than I can count. I’ve got scars on every part of my body. Frankly, I’m getting too old for this, Diego, and I’m still not settled down. At least you have Ana.”
The reminisced a little about how they had met in a waterfront cantina in Santo Domingo, years ago, when Dávila’s armada was being organized for the invasion of Castilla de Oro. They also laughed at how they had been staggering and puffing through the jungles, during the last entrada into Nicaragua, no longer young men – less agile and considerably less good-looking.
“We’re not getting any younger, that’s true,” Almagro observed. “It’s time to do something really big. We’ve had all the glory. We’ve seen that God has nothing to do with the conquest. Now, it’s time for gold, and perhaps some respect.” He paused, however, and taking a deep breath – followed by a deep draught of wine – he asked, “What were you thinking when you captured Balboa?”
Pizarro did not like this question. He and Balboa had been friends. They had stood together, amazed and laughing, on that beach, staring out at the Pacific Ocean, the first two Europeans to see proof that Columbus has not reached some unknown part of Asia, after all, but rather a completely new world. Balboa had been the hero of the hour, but Dávila, who had raised him up, cut him down just as quickly.
“Dávila was testing my loyalty,” Pizarro said, quietly. “You know how these things are. We’re a long way from home.”
“And what did you think when they chopped his head off?” Almagro inquired, frowning as he poured another goblet of wine.
“I thought, ‘Balboa is no longer in my way.’”
Almagro nodded, hearing this. He glanced at Pizarro for a long moment before saying, “You and I have been friends a long time, Francisco. Please don’t betray me when you’re at court, eh?”
III. THE INVESTORS
The fort of Panama was defended by a ditch and a wooden stockade, within which the administrative buildings of the settlement stood, facing the azure blue waters of the gulf. The Governor, Pedrarias Dávila, was looking down from the balcony outside his office, watching a small party of soldados drilling with pikes in the fort plaza. He found himself thinking about the course of the conquest thus far.
The first expeditions to the New World had focused on exploring and settling the islands on the other side of the Ocean-Sea, but reconnaissance parties had begun to report long stretches of land to the north, west, and south, and it did not require much imagination to piece these together and conclude that a vast continent had been discovered. For lack of a better word, the Spanish had begun to call this mysterious landmass Tierra Firme. Dávila had led the first major expedition to the mainland, but it was Cortes – the mutineer, a daring, swashbuckling captain – who had gained untold glory and riches beyond imagining by leading the garrison of Cuba on a harebrained invasion of the Aztec Empire, against the orders of his superior. What had Dávila found? Naked pagans living in thatched huts, and just enough gold trinkets to whet the curiosity of his men.
Dávila’s initial attempts to settle the eastern shore of Tierra Firme had not been very successful. Garrisons had been set on the beach only to be wiped out, within months, by disease, famine, and overwhelming attacks by the native peoples. Of all his captains, only Balboa and Pizarro had been successful, discovering the route across the Isthmus and the Pacific Ocean beyond. Now that Panama had been established, however, the conquistadors were forming compañas – private expeditions organized as commercial ventures. Men shared in the loot a compaña might take in proportion to their investment – even men who did not want to fight, such as the Italian merchants and priests who stayed behind at Panama – contributed a sword, an arquebus, a horse or two, anything that might prove useful and earn them a share. These compañas, however, divided the Spanish forces. Losses could be heavy, and were not easily replaced. But, perhaps worst of all, the captains of these compañas were beginning to contest the same territory in their insatiable quest for gold and slaves: they were beginning to fight each other, driven into an absolute frenzy by frustrated greed. Unpaid, except by gaining plunder, the conquistadors literally had to succeed or die.
Gaspar de Espinosa and Hernando de Luque, the priest, arrived, and these men – urbane and sophisticated – sat down in the Governor’s office to discuss the proposed expedition.
“Let us consider what we know,” Espinosa said, smiling at his companions. “We know, for instance, that Amerigo Vespucci found the estuary of an enormous river flowing into the Ocean-Sea from out of the west – a river that could only drain a vast area, an area perhaps even larger than all of Europe. They say the mouth of the river is a hundred miles wide. Moreover, this river very likely flows from immense mountains lying somewhere in the west.”
Hernando de Luque nodded, and warming to this exercise, added, “And there is the recent voyage made by Magellan – although, sadly, not completed by him. Still, the circumnavigation of the world....”
“So, we now know that the Earth is round,” Dávila snorted. “You’re not going to turn me in to the Inquisition for saying that, Padre?”
“What can I say?” the affable priest chuckled. “There’s a mistake in the Bible. Perhaps there’s hope for us all, yet? If God can allow an error in Holy Scripture, he no doubt will tolerate a few errors in us.”
“What Magellan has demonstrated, gentlemen, is that we’re sitting up here at the edge of a continent that extends southward for thousands of miles. Along the eastern coast, mariners have found only savages, no signs of civilization – only a vast forest. We, however, have evidence of a civilization located south of Panama – there are people down there who are capable of producing art and building cities. And you’ve all heard Pizarro’s stories. If Tumbez is just an outlying settlement, what lies in the interior?”
“Yes,” Father de Luque said, “and if I’m not mistaken, the ornaments Pizarro and Almagro found represent pagan deities and devils, indicating that these people – whoever they are – have a sense of religion, albeit one founded on the darkest superstitions. There may be hundreds of thousands of souls to be saved, if not millions.”
“A developed religion and mythology suggests a society that has been established for some time,” Dávila replied. “These people likely will be different from any other race we’ve encountered in the New World so far, apart from the Aztecs and the Mayans.”
“Do you think our two bastard amigos are up to the job, Señor?” Espinosa smirked. “Pizarro has more pride than good sense, and he can’t read or write; Almagro, on the other hand, is a grasping little cutthroat.”
“I know Almagro’s a cutthroat; that’s why I signed him on – he came out here full of fight, with nothing to lose but his life. Let these two captains take the lead – and the risks,” Dávila said. “Pizarro and Almagro have been loyal – they’ve always done everything I asked them to do. They’ve earned their chance. But there is more than one way to profit from a conquest. The gold flowing out of Mexico now enriches Cuba and Santo Domingo. Well, then – why should the gold of Peru not enrich Panama? It will have to pass through here – through us – on its way to Spain. If we cannot find a way to squeeze an easy profit out of such an arrangement, we’re not men of reason.”
IV. THE VOYAGE TO SPAIN
Francisco Pizarro travelled across the Isthmus to the Caribbean port of Nombre de Díos, where he found passage aboard a ship bound for Santo Domingo. He had been entrusted with letters written to various members of the imperial court, fifteen hundred cruzados for his expenses, some examples of Peruvian trinkets, two llamas (which he called camels), and the two Indian boys who had been kidnapped along the coast, now sporting the names Felipillo and Martinillo. Pizarro was accompanied by one of his most loyal companions, a Hispanicized Greek soldier-of-fortune from Genoa named Pedro de Candia.
“I need you with me, Pedro,” he confided, once they were aboard. “I can’t read, you see. If we’re successful, there are bound to be documents involved: I need someone with me I can trust, so I don’t do anything foolish.”
“Don’t worry,” Pedro promised. “Everything will work out.” He crossed himself, adding, “God willing.”
A defensive wall of cemented stone had been built around the new city of Santo Domingo, and it was evident that the wealth haemorrhaging out of Mexico was bringing about astonishing changes even here. Pizarro had come out with the armada of Nicolás de Ovando, when that officer was appointed Governor of Hispaniola. Pizarro – then a young man – beheld with awe his first hurricane, a storm so vast, furious, and sustained that the town was completely destroyed, first torn apart by wind and then swept away by the surging sea. Prudently, the Governor had decided to move everyone to a new location and start over. After participating in a few expeditions to Tierra Firme, Pizarro had served as a teniente in the Santo Domingo garrison. He had come out as a raw youth: hard, dangerous marches into the jungle and swift, savage battles with the natives had made him hard and dangerous himself, but his time in Santo Domingo had given him a chance to observe, at close quarters, the speech and manners of the hidalgos – the officer class – and ever since he had attempted to emulate them, altering his accent, his expression, the way he carried himself, even his thinking.
They did not tarry long in Santo Domingo, however. They boarded the first ship bound for Seville, and soon were far out to sea, out of sight of land.
The wooden ship rolled miserably through rolling Atlantic swells, timbers creaking ominously. In the darkness of the hold, the clucking of chickens and the bleating of goats mingled with the incessant dripping of the leaking hull and the coughing of sick men trying to make it home before they died. In small but much better-ventilated cabin in the stern-castle, Pizarro and de Candia lay in their hammocks, pondering the rising and falling waves through their open port. On deck, the bo’sun was shouting orders, and there was a thunderous noise as the ship altered its tack and the wind filled its enormous sails, straining the masts and rigging.
Felipillo and Martinillo, the two Indian boys, were a study in contrasts. The former, who seemed younger and more naive than his fellow captive, was slow, timid, and cringing. He was eager to please, but inclined to be clumsy. Everything about the Spaniards had terrified him – their shining armour, the sudden crack of their guns, spitting fire, their horses and ships. Now, on the open ocean, he behaved like a person who was certain of his imminent death, shuffling about, despondent and sad. Martinillo, meanwhile, had encountered every new thing with quiet curiosity: he was self-assured, attentive, and a quick study. The sea, furthermore, did not frighten him at all. Whereas Felipillo learned only a few Spanish words from the soldados in Panama, which he used in a clumsy, unclear manner, Martinillo proved himself a perfect mimic of the Castilian accent, lisp and all, and even demonstrated an appreciation for the nuances of his new tongue.
“It’s a shame Felipillo and Martinillo aren’t friends,” Pizzaro remarked. “It’s clear that Martinillo holds young Felipillo in extreme contempt: he won’t even let the boy talk with him.”
“Best to encourage that,” de Candia said. “If they hate each other, they’ll check each other’s translations – just in case one of them decides to betray us.”
“I hadn’t thought of that.”
“From now on, my friend, you need to think of everything,” de Candia replied. “This is the price of command. Anyway, you know how treacherous the natives are. They don’t comprehend the difference between right and wrong. They’re barely human.”
Pizarro did not disagree. He had been horrified, when he first came to Hispaniola, by the brutal manner in which the native Taino people were treated – beaten, locked up, starved, forced to work until they were sick and dying, and then left to rot or be cared for by some exhausted, distraught Dominican friar, if they were lucky. However, familiarity bred contempt. Armed to the teeth, swaggering in one’s armour, it was hard not to feel invincible: the natives were cowards – they fled, cringed, cried like women, begged for mercy. When they did fight, they preferred stealth, poisoned darts shot from being trees, mobbing small bands of men who they could catch off guard. Over the years, Pizarro had found it easy not to like the natives of the New World, to ignore the way the overseers beat the encomienda Indians labouring in his little shipyard on the Isla de Taboga. When they tried to desert, he chased them down with hunting dogs and dragged them back through the muddy, steaming jungle trussed like pheasants, snivelling like frightened children. The important thing, he always thought, was to make sure that the natives feared the Spanish, for otherwise there would be no way to control them.
V. THE SPANISH COURT
The Emperor, Carlos V, was holding court at Toledo when Pedro de Candia finally secured Pizarro’s release from the prison at Seville. The Emperor, however, was understanding – he joked about it, a matter of old debts, long forgotten, incurred when Pizarro was young and more frequently on the move. He had heard that many conquistadors lived interesting and complicated lives. His Imperial Majesty had his father’s languid good-looks. Not for nothing had his father been nicknamed “El Guapo.” He was perfunctory and preoccupied, however – that was clear even to Pizarro, unaccustomed to court etiquette and protocol as he was.
“Your proposal is of interest to us,” Carlos said, “all the more so given the stupendous profits reaped by our loyal servant, Cortes – your second cousin, we believe....” He paused while one of his counsellors whispered in his ear, and then finished: “We must attend to our armies, but in our absence you will carry on negotiations with the Empress and the Council of the Indies.”
Pizarro had not been home to Spain for twenty-eight years, and many things had changed. Princess Juana had been sent to Flanders to marry, only to return as Hapsburg Empress; now, her philandering husband was dead and she was locked up in a convent, semi-hysterical and bereft of all reason. By law, she was co-ruler with her son, Carlos, but in fact she was only a figure-head, a sop to Castilian pride. In the streets, and even at court – but only in whispers – people called her Juana la Loca, or Joan the Mad. For all that, Carlos had not found it easy to seize real power: in each kingdom of the Spanish realm, the members of the local cortes, or parliament, sought to delay the inevitable, trying to obtain more rights. There had been a bloody revolt, in Castile, where several cities had rejected imperial rule outright, but troops loyal to the Emperor Carlos had crushed the rebel towns. Toledo itself had been at the centre of that storm, and the people might have been restless, still, had they not found a capable regent and a sympathetic advocate in Charles’ Portuguese wife, Isabela.
The Empress was beautiful, graceful, and smart, and it was clear to all who saw her with Charles that her husband not only doted on her, but held her in high esteem. Twenty-seven years old, she had been on the throne for five years. The marriage of Joan the Mad had united the Spanish Empire in the New World and Italy with the Low Countries and – eventually – with the Holy Roman Empire. When Carlos had married Isabela, peace was secured with the Portuguese, who had been building an empire of their own in Africa, and now were colonizing far-off settlements in the Indian Ocean and the Spice Islands. True, there was growing trouble in Europe, in particular a movement against the Church that had not existed when Pizarro left for the New World, but these Lutherans, as they were called, surely were just another band of heretics, doomed to failure and obscurity.
It was not easy for Pizarro to make himself noticed, even with two llamas and two Peruvian youths in tow, although the court ladies were delighted by the beasts, and remarked upon their ridiculously cute faces and ever-complacent expressions. The Indian boys, however, were almost ignored. Hundreds of New World savages had been paraded at court, by now, and the courtiers were bored with them. Pizarro’s second cousin, Hernan Cortes, had come home from the New World, too, this time to report personally on the success of his conquest of Mexico. He had been sending galleons home, laden with gold, for the last seven years, but now brought personal treasures to lay in the hands of the ladies-in-waiting, and the Empress herself, with a smile so charming that even the devil himself must have been jealous.
At the first opportunity, Pizarro met with Cortes in the large house that he had rented for himself and his entourage, and they shared a bottle of wine.
“So, you think you’ve found another Indian civilization to rival mine, eh?” Cortes smirked.
“Yes – which is why I need your advice,” Pizarro replied. “You’re the only one who’s ever done anything like this.”
“Like what?” Cortes snorted.
“Like conquer a completely unknown civilization,” Pizarro said. “I’ll probably only have a few hundred men: there might be millions of people in Peru, like there are in Mexico. I need to know what to do.”
“Well, this is what happened in Mexico. One of the coastal tribes tried to buy peace by giving us young women, for they saw we didn’t bring any with us. One of the girls they sent us was a slave they had acquired, but she had been born into a noble family among the Aztecs. Girls inherited equally amongst the Aztecs, so her parents got rid of her in order to leave everything to her half-brother. She was given to one of the soldados, first, but I took her for myself, and she became our interpreter. She had picked up a little Spanish from a shipwrecked sailor, you see. You need someone who can explain not just the words they’re saying, mind, because the Indians can lie as well as any Christian. You also need to understand the symbols, facial expressions, gestures, hidden meanings, the works. Doña Marina, as we called her, saved our hides several times.”
“I’m getting a little old for mistresses,” Pizarro laughed. “Anyway, our interpreters are boys.”
Cortes scoffed. “I’ll believe you’re too old when I see you put down your sword. At least you’re not married! Doña Marina and I were getting on splendidly until my wife arrived from Cuba.”
Pizarro laughed, imagining how awkward this must have been. “What did you do?”
“She married my right-hand man: the three of us had an understanding, you see. After all, Doña Marina has borne me children. A veneer of respectability is important – eventually,” Cortes smiled. “Eventually, you have to come to court. They don’t like irregularities at court. You need to find a way to make those go away.”
Pizarro pursed his lips and scratched his forehead, trying to imagine all the irregularities Cortes must have conjured under the rug in the aftermath of his conquest.
Cortes sipped a glass of wine and said, “You need a woman to interpret, at some point. Women see the world differently. They’re more subtle than we are.”
“I’ll take your word for it,” Pizarro chuckled, stifling a belch as a servant poured them more wine.
“Now – these steps are crucial,” Cortes said, leaning across the table. “First, be gentle with the people living on the edge of the empire. They were probably conquered recently, and will be ready to rise up and aid you, so use just enough force to show them the superiority of our arms. Then offer them the olive branch.”
“Peace,” Cortes sighed. “It’s a pity you never acquired a proper education, Francisco. You need some smart fellows around you, and a priest or two, malleable friars who won’t get in the way. The last thing you want is some religious fanatic tagging along who thinks he wants to save everyone. But it’s useful to show the natives we have a religion of our own. I’ve never known a court, in the New World or the Old where there wasn’t some sort of rivalry between the ruler and the priests. Find every fissure in their society you can and pry them all open. Weaken every institution as much as possible.”
Cortes continued his instructions. An empire, he said, could best be conquered by a handful of men if they could turn its own strength in upon itself. He had conquered the Aztecs with the assistance of thousands of native allies, all of them sick of the oppressive rule of their overlords. The Aztecs, it turned out, were merely a ruling class, stretched thin, a minority within their own empire. At some point, however, there was bound to be a head-on clash between Spanish troops and the enemy’s force.
“Because the situation will be a novel one, they’ll want to begin by negotiating. They’ll be curious. In Mexico, Montezuma, didn’t know who or what we were. Doña Marina told me they believed one of their Gods might have come back from across the sea, in accordance with a prophecy. Well, whether Montezuma believed that or not, he soon figured out what we wanted – gold – but he couldn’t understand why. The Aztecs called our horses deer, if you can believe it – they’d never seen anything like them. But there’s the thing. You’ll only have one chance to surprise them with the horses and guns. They won’t be so frightened the second time. And the third time, they won’t be scared at all. Here’s what you must do. Coax their leader into a place where you can ambush him, and take him prisoner. That’s the only reason our men left behind in Tenochtitlan weren’t massacred: they held Montezuma hostage.”
“Find someone legitimate and amenable. Make him your puppet, if that helps. At every court there are people with grievances who will welcome a usurper, even a foreign one. Form alliances with such people in every way you can. Let them think they’ll be equals, or even superior, but don’t trust them. Learn from them, rule the country through them, and – at least at first – change things as little as possible. That’s how we rule New Spain, and it seems to be working.”
“Why don’t the Aztecs rebel?”
“We either converted them into allies, or we killed them,” Cortes said in a matter-of-fact way. “And I mean kill them. Show no mercy. They don’t understand mercy – they certainly don’t show any in their own wars with each other. But the real danger, in the end, will be the other Spaniards who are with you, especially those who feel slighted in some way.”
VI. THE COUNCIL OF THE INDIES
The Empress Isabel studied the letters Pizarro had brought from Panama – mostly from Espinosa, who held the post of Treasurer under Governor Dávila. She eventually received the report sent in by the Governor sent out to replace Dávila, a man named de los Ríos, who – as usual – described a long list of deficiencies and abuses, all of which he blamed on his predecessor. Isabel also met with the Council of the Indies, then headed by a Cardinal of the Church, García de Loaysa and Diego Beltrán, Councillor of the Indies.
“Why does Pizarro call this new land Peru?” she asked.
Beltrán spoke: “Apparently, Your Majesty, that is the name of a river, flowing into the Pacific Ocean, where they first began to find evidence of the new land.”
“Do we really have sufficient evidence to believe Pizarro’s tales?” This cautionary question was put by the third member of the Council, Francisco de Los Cobos.
“If I may beg your pardon in advance, Your Majesty, we must consider the possibility that the Portuguese may reach the new land first.” Juan Suárez de Carvajal, Bishop of Lugo, had spoken.
“Even if they do, it lies on our side of the Demarcation Line of Tordesillas,” said Cardinal Loaysa.
“With all due respect, Your Excellency, we don’t know that,” Beltrán interjected. “Proper astronomical observations would have to be made to verify the location of Peru. But all the more reason to let Pizarro and his partners go, in my opinion.”
“It is true that the Portuguese court is considering planting a colony on the coast of this new land they call Brazil,” Isabel said. “They will say it is a way-station for their India-bound fleets, but, of course, they will explore the interior.”
“We’re spreading ourselves too thin,” Los Cobos warned. “We have only a handful of Spaniards, in Mexico, trying to control a population at least as large as that of Spain. We’ve all read Cortes’s official account of the conquest. There must be at least ten million people in the lands he’s conquered, and he has what? Two thousand men – if that? If we were to find another civilization, of comparable size, so soon after trying to absorb Mexico into the Empire....”
“Then we’d be twice as rich as we are now,” Cardinal Loaysa sighed. “Look, any problems that arise can be dealt with, especially if there is sufficient incentive.”
“And the Philippines?”
“The dispute with the Portuguese over the occupation of the Moluccas will soon be concluded,” Isabel reported. “We have received word from Rome that the Pope is close to reaching an agreement with our representatives.”
“The important thing is not to promise too much, at this stage,” Los Cobos said. “Your Majesty, I believe it would be prudent to give this Pizarro enough latitude to make his conquest, but not enough to usurp power the way Cortes has done in Mexico.”
“Cortes presented us with a done deal,” Isabel nodded, “and there is no argument quite as compelling as a fait accompli. Pizarro has at least come here asking our permission for the conquest: he understands his place.” She turned to Cardinal Laoysa. “What are his antecedents, exactly?”
“His father served in Italy and Navarre – a captain, from Trujillo, a member of the minor nobility,” the Cardinal replied. “I understand he is one of the captain’s many natural sons, by a woman named Francesca, whose parents were launderers for the convent of San Francisco. The old man had a whole slew of bastard sons.”
Isabel was not surprised to hear this. Landless knights and their illegitimate sons, runaway servants, Moriscos, crypto-Jews, criminals fleeing justice – the Americas were fast being populated by the cast-offs and refuse of Spanish society.
“We will offer him a knighthood,” Isabel said, decisively. “However, we will limit his share of the riches to be taken to one-twentieth of the royal fifth, but in any event no more than one thousand five hundred cruzados.”
Cardinal Loaysa raised his eyebrows, hearing this. “Will he accept such limitations, Your Majesty?”
“If he doesn’t agree to them, we will make the offer to someone who will,” Isabel replied. “Cortes had his way with us, Señores, but the Spanish Crown will never again tolerate such insolence on the part of a subject. The conquistadors must be brought under control, even if Spain is far away.”
VII. THE COMPAÑA FOR THE CONQUEST
Francisco Pizarro was baffled by the complexity of the negotiations with the Crown, and he was glad he had Pedro de Candia with him to help him negotiate the political maze of the Hapsburg bureaucracy. He might be illiterate and untutored, but he at least had friends – not just the Greek mercenary, but an old comrade from his youth, Luis Carrillo, brother of Doña Maria Niño, whose husband now was the Royal Secretary, Lope Conchillos. Another ally, Juan de Semano, also helped Pizarro with the delicate task of bribing Francisco de Los Cobos, who in the end withdrew his opposition to the venture. As for Diego Beltrán, he was satisfied easily enough, being promised a place in the expedition for two of his sons.
Briefly, Pizarro visited his home town of Trujillo. His mother and father were both dead, but he had many relatives there still. All of them had heard of the riches won by Cortes in Mexico, and they listened eagerly to Pizzaro’s offer of a share in the proposed conquest of Peru. Hernando, the youngest, was – rather ironically – the only legitimate one of the bunch, but in keeping with the old traditions, Captain Pizarro had encouraged his boys to think of themselves as brothers, regardless of who their mothers had been. Thus, all the brothers – Hernando, Juan, and Gonzalo – and even Francisco’s half-brother, Martin de Alcántara – agreed to return to the New World with him, as did many other men of Trujillo. After all, a chance to win riches on the edge of the known world was better than herding swine, even if there was a very high probability of death. Extremadura was one of the poorest corners of Spain, a rugged and parsimonious land that bred tough lads. There were only a few thousand people in Trujillo, however, and Pizarro had been authorized to recruit three hundred men.
For Pizarro, the most thrilling part of his journey back to Spain had been the ceremony in which the Empress Isabella knighted him, proclaiming him Don Francisco Pizarro, a member of the Order of Santiago. He now had a coat-of-arms – appropriate, perhaps: an imagined Peruvian city, a llama, and a ship at sea. However, by January, having been gone nearly a year, he still had only two-thirds of the men he needed mustered at Seville, while the ships he had been able to arrange were in very poor condition.
“We should leave now, Don Francisco,” Pedro de Candia urged. “If we wait any longer for Hernando to come down from Trujillo with his men, the royal officials will arrive. Do you really want those fellows underfoot?”
The Empress had insisted that Pizarro accept into his force a small staff of imperial bureaucrats – inspectors and accountants, court spies essentially – who would report on all his activities and also make sure that the Crown received its due share of the spoils, if any were to be found. No doubt, they would make it to Peru eventually, but Pizarro agreed with de Candia. There was no point in making the officials’ jobs easy: they would set sail at once, from a small port not far from Seville, and plead the age-old sailors’ excuse of wind and tide. A messenger was sent to Hernando to tell him to hurry up and rendezvous with the rest of the force at the Canary Islands.
Once at sea, however, Pizarro found himself immersed in anxiety. The imperial officials would be mad, surely, that they had been left behind. They would exact their revenge, if they could. Meanwhile, the Empress had driven a hard bargain. No wonder the Emperor did not worry about leaving the administration of such a vast and complex empire in her hands. She was beautiful and elegant, and she could strip you of every advantage in a negotiation, while smiling, and make the whole business seem like a kiss on the cheek by an angel.
They sailed within sight of the cloud-capped mountains of Madeira after about a week rolling and pitching on the sea, but the Trade Winds were with them, and only a few days later they were riding at anchor off the island of Gomera, waiting for Hernando, who showed up in due course, having himself successfully avoided the imperial officials. At last, firing salutes, the little armada unfurled its sails and set a course for the Caribbean and the Tierra Firme port of Nombre de Díos.
The llamas had remained at Toledo, joining the rest of the royal menagerie, but Felipillo and Martinillo were returning to the New World with Pizarro. The latter, in particular, had been astonished by the splendour of the Castilian court, and something about the halos over the heads of the Catholic saints, and the sun-burst symbols of the intricately-carved altars of the churches had captivated his imagination. Martinillo now was the constant companion of the Dominican friars who accompanied Pizarro, among them another of his relatives, Fray Vicente de Valverde.
VIII. SUSPICIONS & SETBACKS
By May, Pizarro was back in Panama, presenting to his business partners the articles of agreement drawn up by the Empress and the Council of the Indies.
“Great,” muttered Almagro. “It bears Juana la Loca’s name - the crazy Queen gives her assent to our madness....”
“We also had an imperial cédulo, instructing Governor de Los Rios to assist us and make no effort to impede our expedition,” Pizarro explained.
“You’re to get fifteen hundred cruzados, while I get five hundred,” Almagro noted. “How the hell did that happen? You get to be Captain-General, the Padre here is to be made a bishop, and me? Mayor of a town that doesn’t even exist yet, located in a land we know next to nothing about.”
“These are just preliminary agreements,” Padre de Luque said, trying to soothe Almagro. “I’m sure there will be changes once the expedition has penetrated into the country.”
“Her Majesty said there should be only one leader – she wanted to avoid the problems Cortes had in Mexico when Velazquez tried to interfere,” Pizarro replied. “I swear to you, Diego, I will see you have your due, somehow.”
“That promise is worth about as much as a tinker’s fart in a high wind, Pizarro.”
“Señores, let’s not quibble over spilled milk we don’t even have yet,” Luque advised. “Better attend to the expedition. The town is full of rumours. The men are frightened – many have deserted. Of the six friars who came out from Spain, one has returned home already, two want to stay here, and you have only three remaining. You’ll have no one left unless you finish your preparations and set forth immediately.”
“Padre de Luque is right,” Almagro nodded, sagely, “there are other captains in Panama looking to recruit men for their own compañas. I’ve seen them eyeing our men with an indecent degree of interest.”
Governor de los Ríos had no interest in the success of Pizarro’s expedition, especially since he was unlikely to benefit from it in any direct way. Gaspar de Espinosa, who remained on the new Governor’s staff, now had to become a silent partner in the enterprise, laundering his money with a priest named Juan de Asencio, who had recommended by Padre de Luque. With the transport vessels nearly completed at the shipyard, Almagro sharking up every wharf rat and idler he could find, and a stockpile of supplies ready to carry aboard, all that remained were some last-minute financial arrangements.
The merchant guild of Seville enjoyed a royal monopoly on all trade between Spain and the New World, and their agent in Panama, Domingo de Soraluce, agreed to invest part of his fortune in Pizarro’s expedition, helping the conquistadors obtain a few small cannon, shot, and a few casks of gunpowder. Soraluce assigned one of his underlings, Francisco de Calaborra, to accompany Pizarro’s men and attend to the important task of assessing their loot, advancing credit in return for taking unwieldy treasure off the soldados’ hands.
At last, the day of departure arrived, December 27, 1530, and the members of the expedition assembled in the Dominican church at Panama, hearing mass and receiving communion before setting forth amid blaring trumpets and trooping standards, cheered on by the motley inhabitants of the settlement as they marched out of the chapel and down to the jetty, where the ships awaited them.
As the men climbed up into the transports, Pizarro stood at the end of the jetty, clad in his shining conquistador’s armour, with his new coat-of-arms emblazed on his shield, crying out, “Boys! Here lies Panama in her poverty – ahead of us lie the riches of Peru! Only volunteers will come with us – if you are not a true son of Castile, you’re free to go!”
No one backed out. The weak-of-spirit had deserted already, leaving the loyal, the tough, the brave, and the truly desperate, one hundred and eighty in all, thirty of them caballeros whose horses had been swung up into the holds of the ships by means of winches, pulleys, and ropes attached to canvas slings. As Pizarro himself climbed up to join his men, crowded onto the decks of the ships, they drew their swords, upon which they raised up their steel helmets, shouting in unison, “Por Dios, Carlos, y España!” Then, much louder, and with great enthusiasm, they cried, “Santiago!”
Pizarro embraced his brothers and made his way to his cabin with tears in his eyes, for this was the proudest moment of his life.
Soon enough, they were at sea again, their navigator, Juan Ruiz de Arce, setting a course for the Pearl Islands. Beyond these jungle-covered specs of land, the ships sailed southward, out of right of the coast, buffeted by contrary winds and tricksy currents. Fourteen days passed, the fresh provisions brought from Panama dwindling.
“The men need to get their feet on dry land – and so do the horses,” Pizarro said to Juan Ruiz. “Take us in – we’ll advance along the shore while you sail parallel to the coast.”
After all, it would not do for his little army to stumble ashore seasick, horses barely able to stand. That would not impress the Indians, and – as Cortes had warned – first impressions were vitally important to the success of the mission.
IX. ATAHUALPA & HUASCAR
In the Land of the Four Quarters all was confusion and fear. Some said Atahualpa started the civil war by refusing to go to Cuzco with the embalmed corpse of Huayna Capac. The official he sent in his stead, Cusi Tupac Yapanqui, was seized and tortured by Huascar, who demanded to know what Atahualpa meant by this insult. They stripped him naked, to humiliate him. They tore out his fingernails, pulled his hair and eyebrows out, then his eyelashes. Finally, they began to cut him, slowly, and applied hot copper tongs to his private parts – calm deliberation on their part, frenzied screaming on their victim’s part.
“I don’t know!” was Cusi Tupac Yapanqui’s final defence. He struggled as the guards dragged him away, literally kicking and screaming, but Huascar had given them the frowning signal.
Slowly and deliberately, Huascar spoke: “From now on the ayllu of Hanan-Cuzco is cut off. They have supported Atahualpa’s rebellion against the Sapac Inca, and for this they will be punished.”
Atahualpa, however, sent messengers bearing gifts to Huascar, protesting his innocence. He did not deserve to be branded aucca, or traitor, he protested. He had remained behind at Quito only because he was busy suppressing a revolt in Huancavilas, the region around the Gulf of Guyaquil and the city of Tumbez.
“Kill the messengers,” was Huascar’s response to these excuses. He then ordered officials to descend upon the Sun Maidens’ sanctuary of Tumipampa to seize the royal insignia kept there, as well as the women set aside for Huayna Capac, who no longer required them now that he was a pickled, brittle corpse laid out in his family’s mausoleum-hall.
In Huancavilas, meanwhile, Atahualpa’s soldiers interrogated several curacas, or local chiefs, who informed them that strange men had come across the sea, carried aboard boats larger than anything anyone had ever seen. Some said the men were bearded, like Viracocha, the Creator and Preserver, who had disappeared across the ocean according to the ancient traditions.
When he had crushed the revolt in Huancavilas, leaving the city of Tumbez depopulated, Atahualpa returned to Quito, despatching two of his generals, Chalcochima and Quizquiz, along the spine of the mountains toward Cuzco. Committed, now, to a fight to the finish, Atahualpa took the fringe for himself, assumed the title of Sapac Inca, and laid claim to concubines from the sanctuaries occupied by the Chosen Women. Sun Maidens came to attend him, and Atahualpa insisted that they hold a screen of cloth in front of him, if a commoner sought an audience, so that he did not have to look upon any but the faces of beautiful young women, nobles, and priestesses. All who questioned his presumption openly were seized and killed.
While Chalcochima and Quizquiz marched toward Cuzco to confront Huascar, slowly Atahualpa and his entourage made their way down the royal road, pausing along the way to receive the submission of provincial chiefs. No one who was not part of the inner circle of nobles was allowed to speak directly to Atahualpa. Instead, they had to address an official dubbed the Apu Inca, who stood beside the Sapac Inca at all times when he was holding court.
When Atahualpa’s entourage – now tens of thousands strong –
arrived at Huamachuco, he sent royal servants to consult the huaca, or oracle. An elderly priest, said to be more than one hundred years old, attended the shrine, communicating with the spirits who lived there on behalf of those who arrived bearing offerings. He wore a cloak covered with sea-shells.
“What is Atahualpa’s fate?” the royal officials asked.
“He will be destroyed on account of his cruelty,” the old priest replied.
When Atahualpa heard the oracle’s reply to his query, he was furious. He marched at once to the hut where the old priest lived and ordered him to come outside. Without delay, he struck the old man with a halberd made of copper-gold, severing his head from his shoulders.
“We will proceed to Cajamarca,” Atahualpa said, handing his bloodied royal weapon to an attendant to be destroyed.
Nothing the Sapac Inca touched – except his women – was ever touched again. Every day, all the utensils he had used, all his clothes, were gathered and burned. New implements and clothes then were brought for his use.
“This sacred hill has offended me,” Atahualpa added, glaring up at the rocky eminence. “Level it. There will be no more huaca here.”
When he reached Cajamarca, however, Atahualpa once again received a report that Viracocha had appeared on the coast in the region of Huancavilas.
“How can there by more than one Viracocha?” Atahualpa asked his attendant priests.
“Let us wait here at Cajamarca, for now, until we learn more,” suggested one of the commanders of Atahualpa’s escort.
“The prophecy does say, Sapac Inca, that Viracocha will return in a time of calamity,” the priest said.
At first, conflicting reports arrived from the front lines. After defeating one of the younger princes, loyal to Huascar, Chalcochima and Quizquiz went up against Huascar’s main force. Initially, the battle did not go well for Atahualpa’s forces, although they fought bravely. The two generals, however, did not yield: they knew that if they were defeated, they would not just be killed, but skinned alive first. The flesh of their bellies would be tanned and stretched over the heads of the royal war drums. They fell back, therefore, laying a trap carefully, and Huascar, who knew nothing of war, walked straight into the ambush. His men were slaughtered, thousands of them, and he fell – vanquished and miserable – into the hands of Chalcochima and Quizquiz.
When Atahualpa learned that Cuzco was now controlled by his army, he rejoiced. However, he sent one of his relatives – Cusi Yapanqui – to instruct Chalcochima and Quizquiz to eradicate Huascar’s family from the face of the earth.
“Huascar’s seed must die in the ground where it has been planted,” Atahualpa said. “Do you understand?”
“Yes,” Cusi Yapanqui nodded.
“But let Huascar live, for the time being,” Atahualpa added. “Make him watch.”
Cusi Yapanqui travelled at once to Cuzco, a thousand miles to the southeast, a journey that would take nearly a month and a half. Atahualpa remained at Cajamarca, for he had received fresh reports from the coast regarding the intruders from across the sea. They wore armour made of a metal no one had ever seen before, with a sheen like burnished silver. Their flag was white, with a red cross, and they rode animals like llamas, only larger and stronger. They had slaughtered the inhabitants of Puna, it was said, and had committed all manner of depredations on the mainland. They did not understand Quechua or the local language, but conversed awkwardly through two young men who served as their interpreters.
“What are they doing now?” Atahualpa asked.
“Building a town in the Tangarara Valley, south of Tumbez, but they do not build with blocks of stone. They make bricks, with mud, and they use a great deal of wood.”
Atahualpa turned to his priest, looking quizzical. The priest, who had listened attentively to the reports, said, “It is a fertile area, Sapac Inca. This means they want to farm the land. As for the rest, it seems these strangers are not Viracocha after all. If they were, they would speak Quechua.”
“My father told me of rumours he had heard, concerning such men,” Atahualpa remarked, looking pensive. “They first were seen in lands far to the north, a generation ago.”
“Sapac Inca,” the messenger said, still staring at the floor in front of Atahualpa, “the strangers have begun to march toward Cajamarca.”
“There are only a handful of them. We are thousands strong. What can they do? Let the intruders come here, and then we will find out who and what they are.”
X. PIZARRO’S FOOTHOLD
This time, Pizarro and his men had received a cold reception from the Inca officials at Tumbez. They had learned that the two men who had stayed behind had been killed. Unwilling to attempt an assault a large town with less than two hundred men, Pizarro had withdrawn to the Isla de Puna, off shore in the Gulf of Guyaquil, north of Tumbez. Here, however, there had been trouble. Warned by their interpreters that the Puna chiefs were plotting a surprise attack, the Spanish soldados had seized the curacas, beheading them. The spirited warriors of the island attacked, but they had never faced the levelled pikes of Spanish infantry before, to say nothing of the shock of dozens of arquebuses fired in unison, along with crossbows. Four hundred Indians had been killed, while only three Spaniards were slain and twenty-six wounded. Even so, the local people had not relented. They had continued to harass Pizarro’s contingent until an unexpected reinforcement arrived from Nicaragua – an uninvited interloper named Hernando de Soto, who had brought with him one hundred volunteers and a handful of Nicaraguan Indian scouts.
“What brings you here?” Pizarro asked de Soto.
“Governor Dávila died, which leaves me at loose ends as far as I’m concerned,” de Soto replied. “My men and I are looking for adventure. It looks as if you found some. Perhaps more than you bargained for?”
“You and your men are welcome,” Pizarro said, considering de Soto’s unspoken proposal, “but you must agree to serve under my command.”
Not long after de Soto’s unexpected appearance, another ship arrived from Panama bringing the four royal officials Pizarro had left behind in Spain and thirty more men under an officer named Balcázar. The four officials, however, were not as angry as Pizarro had expected. Perhaps they had been mollified by the twenty thousand cruzados worth of treasure his men had taken from various villages thus far, and the fact that there really was a new civilization, seemingly ripe for the taking, being distracted by a civil war.
Pizarro decided to please the royal inspectors even more by returning to the mainland, which he now could do safely, having received reinforcements. His men had seen on the Isla de Puna that although the natives were brave, their leather armour offered them no protection, while their weapons – copper-tipped javelins, bows and arrows, stone axes, wooden clubs, and slings – were no match for gleaming Spanish steel. Thus, when they landed on the main, they did so with a light heart, being young men, mostly, convinced that they would live forever.
They had been isolated on the Isla de Puna, however, for several months, receiving no news from the hinterlands. What they found was astonishing. The once-populous town of Tumbez was destroyed and abandoned. Villages lay empty, fields unsown. The countryside was all but deserted, and the people they encountered offered no resistance.
“Martinillo, what happened?” Pizarro asked his interpreter, who had been interrogating captives from a semi-abandoned village.
“The people of Huancavilas rebelled against the new Sapac Inca, Señor, but Atahualpa’s armies destroyed them.”
Pizarro cautiously moved inland through an arid country of brush-covered hills and sandy plains, eventually selecting a fertile valley, near the coast, where he could found a pueblo, or town, as per his instructions from the Crown. The place was to be called San Miguel de Piura, and newly-enslaved Indians began to build it for the Spanish in June, 1532. A chapel was constructed, as well, but the ecclesiastical component of the invasion had suffered setbacks, too. Of the three friars who had set out for Peru, one had died, and another had turned back, leaving only Father Vicente de Valverde. The friar was from Trujillo, like many of the men, and thus related well to the soldiers, but it was a bookish man. He had studied at the great university of Salamanca, and his understanding of religion was theological rather than emotional, scriptural and dogmatic rather than a matter of experience.
Pizarro was restless. He had not come to Peru to build towns. The expedition had been away from Panama for nearly a year and a half. His own share of the Crown’s fifth of the plunder taken thus far amounted to no more than two hundred cruzados. His men – there were now some two hundred and seventy of them, many of them ill and half of them ragged scarecrows – they had to share in various proportions a mere sixteen thousand cruzados.
“At this rate,” Hernando muttered, “we might have been better off staying in Trujillo, herding pigs.”
Up to this point, the army had lived on rations sent from Panama, and on what could be found in or taken from the half-empty villages of a rather sparse and wretched-looking country. The mangrove forests and swamps along the shores of the Gulf of Guyaquil gave way quickly to a desert-like landscape of mottled brown, where even the trees resembled large, scraggly bushes. It was a country fit for goats, which – oddly – the Spanish soldiers resembled somewhat as they grew thin due to long marches on patrol, food they were unaccustomed to, and sickness. Up to this point, Pizarro had reserved all the plunder for paying the expedition’s expenses, but he knew it was only a matter of time before men began to ask for their share, and for permission to go home.
“So, where is Almagro?” the soldados began to ask.
I’ve been in this situation before, Pizarro remembered. How could he forget? When the second expedition to this country had fallen apart, he had refused to waver, and only thirteen men had been brave enough to stand by him. This is about more than gold, he thought, although it was hard to forget the gold. It’s about the worth of a man – it’s about how far a man is willing to go.
Martinillo turned out to be well-informed about the Land of the Four Quarters. Being the son of a curaca, or local chief, he had been sent for schooling to Cuzco. He explained that whenever the Incas conquered a new territory, they generally left the old chiefs in charge, provided they submitted to the empire. The chiefs’ sons, however, were required to go to Cuzco, where they were held as honoured hostages, but also trained in various ways. They learned to speak Quechua, to honour the Incas’ gods, and practice the culture of the imperial elite.
The empire, Martinillo explained, was vast. Each of the four regions was divided into provinces, or wamani. There were one hundred and two of these, and each wamani was furthermore broken into districts, or sayas, all of which were reckoned to contain at least ten thousand families. There was not a single wamani, he thought, that had fewer than two or three sayas.
“If this is true,” said Alonso Riquelme, the royal treasurer, “this land must contain at least fifteen million people.”
Although he was not a well-educated man, Pizarro had learned a thing or two about the world, and he realised that if what Martinillo was saying was true, and if the treasurer’s calculations were correct, the empire of Peru was even larger and possibly richer than Mexico. He encouraged his men to talk with Martinillo, so that the young man’s stories might inspire them.
Martinillo remembered his journey to Cuzco, winding his way through mountains along stone-paved roads extending for hundreds of miles, travelling for more than a month. He answered all the questions the Spanish officers put to him – no, there were no wheels or carts. Everything was carried by men, or on the backs of pack-llamas. How much could a llama carry? Not much, really – only a hundred pounds. There were no horses, no draught animals, and thus no ploughs. The farms were gardens, worked with hoes and digging sticks, and the land in the interior was so steep that the villagers had to build terraces. However, he had heard of large estates, especially in the southern part of the empire, with huge fields, worked by requisitioned labourers. Martinillo informed his companions that the Incas collected taxes in the form of grain, dried potatoes, and other foodstuffs; in cloth and craftwork; and in labour. The labour system was called mita, or “turn,” because men from each sub-district took their turn. The drafted men from each area performed different kinds of labour, according to local talents – some repaired bridges, some worked in the mines, others tended the royal herds or the estates of the Inca lords.
Martinillo also tried to explain the civil war, although he had been kidnapped by the Spanish before the fighting had begun. Still, he had managed to piece together the rumours he had gleaned from the captives Pizzaro had taken.
“Atahualpa has sent his army to attack Cuzco, the capital; he is waiting at Cajas, not far from here, until he hears word from his generals....”
Turning to his officers, Pizarro said, “That’s it, Señores, we can’t wait any longer for Almagro’s reinforcements. We’re going to have to march into Peru on our own.”
Pizarro immediately ordered all the men he could spare – one hundred and six infantry and sixty-two caballeros – to march toward Cajas, where he hoped to find Atahualpa and enter into negotiations. The Spanish marched for days across a desert landscape of sand and brush before coming to the foothills of the Andes at Sarrán. Sending for de Soto, Pizarro said, “Take a small force with you and seek out Cajas – and Atahualpa, if he is there. This is what you are to say....”
Captain de Soto nodded. Pizarro gave him the usual orders. The conquistadors were to avoid affronting the Indians, but Atahualpa was to hear – as all other native caciques had – a modified form of the Requiremento. For the past nineteen years this had been standard policy: inform the Indians that the Spanish came in peace, but demand that they accept, immediately, the Christian faith and the supremacy of the Spanish Crown. If a native chief refused the Requiremento’s terms, he and his people were to be considered enemies of Christ, subject to plunder and destruction in accordance with the customs of war.
XI. DE SOTO’S PATROL VISITS CAJAS
De Soto’s force – horse and foot – reached Cajas after a short but arduous march. The distance was only fifty miles, but the town lay eight thousand feet higher up in the mountains than Serrán. The approach to the place, however, was eerie and unsettling. The villages were empty, many of the houses burned. Terraced fields lay fallow, run to weeds, or trampled. At intervals, the Spanish soldiers marched, grimacing, past trees hung with rotting corpses – men, women, even children, all stripped naked and hanged. They had been there for a while, de Soto judged, for birds already had picked out their eyes, and many of the corpses were bloated, ash-grey, fly-encrusted, and beginning to fall apart.
At Cajas, the cacuna received de Soto with unfeigned relief, even joy, especially when he realized that the stranger brought with him Martinillo.
“He says they’ve heard of us,” the interpreter explained. “He says Atahualpa’s army killed all these people – seven thousand in all.”
“Why?” Hernando de Soto asked.
“Because they supported Huascar, the rival Sapac Inca, who rules from Cuzco.”
“Where is Atahualpa?”
“His army has moved on – toward Cajamarca.”
It was a great deal to take in, de Soto thought. Cajas was not a large town, but it was the first proper Inca city he or any other Spaniard had come to, and quite different from ruined Tumbez. Although some of the huts were built of rocks, mud, and sticks, covered with thatch, the center of the town – the storehouses, temples, administrator’s mansions, and plaza – were all built of massive stones, carefully fitted together, with immensely strong, thick walls. These were thrown open to de Soto and his men, and the curaca even brought the young conquistador captain five young women in white robes, wearing golden necklaces, to serve him.
“They are Sun Maidens,” Martinillo said, “chosen by the Incas and dedicated to the service of the Gods and the Sapac Inca. There are sanctuaries full of Sun Maidens all over the country.”
“Virgins?” de Soto asked.
“Similar to your nuns, Señor, but some of these girls will marry,” Martinillo replied. “They are given to the nobles, and sometimes they become the concubines of the Sapac Inca himself.”
De Soto and several of his men rode out to the edge of the city to inspect a road that one of the scouts had seen. Martinillo, who came with them, said there were thousands of miles of these roads linking all the cities of the empire. Like the administrative area of Cajas, the road was built of fitted stone, forming a smooth surface. There were gutters to carry off water, during the rains, even stairs to aid climbing where the path had to mount up a steep incline. To their dismay, however, a few of the caballeros discovered that the horses could not keep their footing on these roads, not with a rider mounted on them.
There was very little gold left in Cajas, for Atahualpa’s soldiers had carried most of it away, but the local chief nevertheless managed to bring de Soto and his men several wall-tiles of unrefined gold that had decorated the local temple. The Sun Maidens, meanwhile, brought the Spanish troops all manner of exotic fruits and even pitchers of sacred maize beer they had brewed themselves, called chicha, which was yellow, cloudy, and quite bitter.
“That’s disgusting!” de Soto snapped, making a face as he took a sip of the drink. “What in the hell is in this?”
Martinillo explained the ingredients, but added, “The secret is that the corn has to be chewed by the Sun Maidens first. They spit their saliva into the jar, which ferments.”
At this juncture, an envoy arrived from Atahualpa’s camp, who was carried on a litter and accompanied by a small guard of armed men. He wore woollen strings around his head, marking him as a nobleman, and carried various golden insignias of rank. Unlike the commoners, who were astonished by the Spaniards, he merely smiled at them, and acted as if he saw conquistadors and horses every day. He settled down amiably with de Soto, sharing meals with the Spanish troops and speaking affably, although they noticed that he keenly took in everything he saw.
“My master, Atahualpa, sends you these ducks – and a token of his esteem.”
De Soto regarded the ducks – which were plucked and stuffed – as a veiled threat, and likewise the little fortresses fashioned out of gold that were presented to him.
“Where are you people from?” the Inca nobleman asked, sitting in one of the houses off the main plaza, alongside de Soto and Martinillo. He looked on with surprise as one of the Sun Maidens appeared, offering him a pitcher of chicha, which he sipped, pouring some of the brew onto the ground, which did not displease the young woman in the least.
“That is a libation for the Goddess,” Martinillo said, causing de Soto to raise his eyebrows, regarding the envoy carefully.
“We are from across the sea,” Hernando de Soto replied, waiting while Martinillo translated his words.
“Why did you come here?”
Before de Soto could answer this, they all were startled by a terrible commotion outside. Pedro de Cataño, the teniente, rushed into the room, shouting, “Señor Capítan, come quickly!”
As soon as he burst out into the plaza, de Soto could see what was afoot – his men had stormed into the House of the Sun Maidens, which fronted the square. They were dragging the young women out into the street, brandishing swords, shouting and yelling. The young women, screaming as they were pushed and pulled, their hair torn, their clothes pulled askew, cried out for help, and instantly a mob of townspeople – outraged – swarmed on all sides.
It began with some of the townsmen throwing rocks at the conquistadors, who shook their weapons and roared back defiance. Soon enough, armed Incas began to appear, and a few of the more truculent villagers tried to rush upon the soldiers and rescue the Sun Maidens. Gaspar de Gárate, one of the first men attacked, ran his sword through one of the Incas, and instantly all his comrades fell upon the townspeople with all their might and fury. Juan Jiménez, who suffered a minor cut from a copper knife, responded with instant, shocking brutality, cleaving his assailant’s head in half, driving the blade of his sword down to the center of the man’s chest. Another blow nearly cut the man in half at the waist before he fell. Blood splashed and jetted back and forth as the Spanish soldiers cut and hacked at the Indians all around them, sending them flying in all directions. Mangled, blood-soaked corpses littered the stone-paved ground.
De Soto himself joined the fray, and – swept up in the spirit of the moment – returned to his headquarters with a captive Sun Maiden for himself, spattered with blood, sweating, and full of fury.
“What have you done?” asked Atahualpa’s envoy, standing in the doorway, from which he had watched the massacre in the plaza. “My master is not far away: none of you will be spared, after this.”
Without waiting for Martinillo’s translation, de Soto threw his captive woman through the door of his room, onto the stone floor, and – turning to the Inca envoy – said, “I don’t give a damn what your pagan lord thinks. You have copper and stone – we have Toledo steel: what do you think is going to happen!”
XII. THE MARCH TO CAJAMARCA
Pizarro was upset but not surprised by what had happened at Cajas. For every one hundred Spaniards who crossed the Ocean-Sea, only one woman arrived in the New World. The conquistadors were young men, full of ambition and fire. Although most of them dreamed of returning home wealthy, and marrying, they had no intention of being celibate in the meantime. They were men who believed in God, kissing the crosses they wore, praying fervently when they heard mass: they took communion; they adored the Virgin Mary, venerated the saints, the holy relics. And Pizarro had seen these same men smash the brains of Indian babies out of their heads against the trunks of trees; he had seen them whip the flesh from the backs of African slaves; he had watched them rape screaming Indian women, crushing their naked brown bodies under gleaming steel armour. Some of them came to the Indies as innocent boys, but they soon left their innocence behind. One of the first things they learned was that most of them were going to die – relatively soon, and probably in some gruesome manner, from disease, starvation, or slaughter. They knew they had to win every battle: defeat, for a conquistador, usually meant certain, ignominious, and hideous death. It made them reckless with their own lives and brutal with the lives of others. It made them hypocrites. It made them crazy.
“I could care less about these Sun Maidens,” Pizarro said when de Soto arrived, bringing with him the Inca envoy. “My mother was a laundress in a convent: I am under no illusions about nuns.”
“He’s a spy,” Hernando observed, watching the Inca prowl through the Spanish camp.
“Of course he is – let him have a good look at us,” Pizarro replied. “Our weakness is our strength. We want them to think we’re harmless.”
Although he had been moved to utter threats while watching the Spanish troops massacre the people of Cajas, the envoy was gracious enough when presented to Pizarro. He remained with the conquistadors for a few days, full of good cheer, conversing amiably. It was as if he had entirely forgotten the whole affair, and he departed for Atahualpa’s camp pleased, bearing gifts for his lord – a Flemish shirt and two goblets made of coloured Venetian glass.
Pizarro ordered his troops to march toward Cajamarca immediately – that is, to cross the coastal range of the Andes, which the natives called the Black Mountains. The distance was only about a hundred miles, but the terrain was unlike anything the Spaniards had seen, and theirs was a mountainous country. They marched along rivers at the bottom of narrowing valleys, and then climbed up steep trails, ascending through forests, eventually reaching terraces where the people were growing cotton and maize. They came, at last, to the royal road of the Incas, which allowed them to proceed much more quickly. Every six miles, the conquistadors passed one of the supply stations, where the officials had been instructed to open the granaries for them, as well as the lodges.
“Either this Atahualpa is a cunning bastard, or he’s a fool,” Hernando Pizarro said, sitting down one night with his brother after a long, hard march up the mountains. “Why is he helping us like this?”
Pizarro grunted a little as his African slave helped him remove his breastplate, saying – with a sigh of relief – “Atahualpa doesn’t know any more about us than we know about him. Less, in fact, is my guess.”
Gonzalo Pizarro nodded, and philosophically remarked, “I wonder what the Emperor Carlos would do if a few hundred strangers turned up on the coast of Spain, who had the ability to fly through the air, blow purple smoke out their asses, and kill people at a distance just by looking at them.”
Laughing, but keeping his voice low so as not to be overheard by the royal treasurer, Ferdinand Pizarro said, “He’d probably send Queen Isabela to deal with them.”
In the morning, they continued their march inland, coming to a windy, open pass, beyond which lay a broad, empty plateau of grassland, thirteen thousand feet above sea level under a brilliant tropical sky. They were south of the Equator, and they gave thanks, for although it was late September the southern hemisphere’s summer was beginning, and they did not have to worry about snow. Even so, they could see mountain peaks, in the distance, rising higher even than the plain over which they marched, covered in gleaming, eternal snow.
On the other side of the plateau, they came to another range of mountains and another pass. From here, the road wriggled down toward the valley of Cajamarca, and upon every ridge, at the top of each towering cliff of iron-dark stone and clay, there loomed a stone-walled watchtower or fortification. The forts were empty, but they did not need to be. Gazing up at one of these outposts as they passed beneath its ramparts, Gonzalo said to Juan Pizarro, “If anything goes wrong, we’ll never get out of here.”
“That would seem to be Fernando’s plan,” Juan laughed. “We either succeed, or we all die.”
“That’s a plan?” Gonzalo scoffed. He crossed himself, only half in jest, and muttered, “Madre de Díos – why did I agree to come here?”
“You’re here for the same reason we all are,” Juan replied, smiling genially. “You were poor, and you wanted to be rich.”
XIII. THE SPANISH MEET ATAHUALPA
Cajamarcas was a town at least as large as Cajas had been, but most of its population had run away, leaving only the Sun Maidens in their sanctuary, situated next to a temple, a small citadel, and the usual rectangular storehouses. The Spanish force proceeded down to the level floor of the valley cautiously, however, for they could see – arrayed across the other side of the valley – an army so vast that its encampment extended for miles. And it was a well-equipped army, too, with proper tents – pavilions, many of them – and the cloth dyed purple, red, orange, blue, and green.
“Advance in three divisions,” Pizarro shouted, ordering his trumpeter, Pedro Alconchel, to announce their approach.
The Incas allowed the Spanish to ride down upon the town, and made no hostile moves when Pizarro’s men assembled in the plaza.
“We have come to see the one who calls himself Atahualpa!” Pizarro announced to the officers who met them.
“He is staying at the lodge, by the hot springs – you can find him there,” the men replied.
Martinillo translated their words, giving the signal that they were to be relied upon. One of the peculiarities of the Quechua tongue, Pizarro had learned, was that it included certain markers that indicated whether or not information was reliable.
“De Soto, go ask the Inca lord where he would have us camp.”
At first, Hernando de Soto rode on alone, accompanied only by Martinillo and sixteen of his horsemen, but Hernando pointed out the folly of this, suggesting that de Soto ought to have more men with him, just in case. Pizarro agreed, and thus his brother led a second contingent off toward Atahualpa’s lodge, which was situated about three miles away. They rode past thousands of soldiers, all told off into specific units, wearing coloured uniforms and sporting standards, but they were allowed to pass. Even so, many of the warriors jeered and shook their maces and javelins.
“What’s all that about?” de Soto asked, turning to Martinillo, who rode beside him, albeit awkwardly, having only just learned to sit a horse.
“They say they are sorry for you, as you will all be dead tomorrow,” Martinillo answered.
There was a rather pleasant house located at the hot spring, enclosing a stone-lined bath filled with streams of both boiling and frigid water. The walls of the little mansion were painted crimson-red, rising upward to rosewood rafters. Here, Atahualpa sat on a low stool, surrounded by Sun Maidens and the officers of his court. Every man wore colourful robes and some sort of headgear, the warriors sporting painted wooden helmets topped with plumes of feathers, the officials bands of twisted wool, but only Atahualpa wore the fringe of royalty, which half-covered his face.
The Inca prince seemed not to notice the Spaniards as they approached. Rather than dismounting, de Soto rode straight toward Atahualpa, whose officers and courtiers trembled visibly. The Sun Maidens also were alarmed – no doubt they had heard about the rapine committed at Cajas – but Atahualpa simply looked down at the ground, taking no notice whatsoever of de Soto even when the latter’s horse drew so close that the breath from its flaring nostrils stirred the Inca’s imperial fringe.
“I am here on behalf of my Captain-General, Don Francisco Pizarro, a servant of their Most Catholic Majesties, the Emperor Carlos and Empress Isabela, rulers of the Holy Roman Empire, Spain, the Kingdom of Naples and Sicily, and all the lands of this New World!”
Atahualpa continued to stare at the ground, silent and unmoved. Rather exasperated, de Soto glanced about at the faces of the Incas, one of whom stepped forward, next to Atahualpa.
“Only members of the nobility may address he who is to be Sapac Inca directly,” said the Apu Inca.
“Well, then,” de Soto replied, pulling his horse away, the beast snorting and clopping at the stony ground with one of its hooves. The courtiers watched him in awe, as if he was riding a dragon, and they murmured among themselves.
Hernando Pizarro, who had watched this fruitless transaction, came to the fore and said to the Apu Inca, “Our Captain-General, who is my brother, wants to know where you want us to stay.”
Only now did Atahualpa raise his face from the ground and take an interest in his visitors.
“Your brother must be a very bad man,” the prince said. “I’ve heard all sorts of complaints from the coastal curacas. They say you marauders have been abusing the people of Huacavilas. They tell me they have killed several of your men, including two of these llamas you ride.”
“That is a lie,” Hernando retorted. “The men we met with on the coast fought like women: one Spanish horseman – I dare say a Spanish fishwife – could vanquish them all. Tell me, my lord – for my brother sends you his love – if you have any enemies, just point the way, and we’ll take care of them.”
“There are a few tribes who have given me no end of trouble,” Atahualpa said. “Perhaps you could send some of your men to assist my troops?”
“Ten of our cabelleros could ride down any enemy you have, Señor,” Hernando scoffed. “Your men would hardly be needed.”
To drive home the point, de Soto proceeded to give them all a display of Castilian horsemanship, demonstrating how the Spaniards’ horses could rear up, pull up short, wheel, and back, instantly obeying verbal commands, taps of their riders’ feet, and the guidance of the reins. Atahualpa raised his eyebrows, impressed, but frowned when some of his warriors cowered as de Soto trotted toward them. Chewing a mouthful of coca leaves, he leaned forward and spit his saliva into the cupped hands of one of the Sun Maidens, then spoke tersely, angrily, to one of his army commanders. The officers bowed their heads, shamefaced, but said nothing.
“I will come visit your chief in the morning,” Atahualpa said, at last. “You may take over the three buildings around the plaza in Cajamarca. I ask only that I have the fort for my own lodging.”
De Soto, Hernando, and their men were allowed to depart, unmolested, and Pizarro could scarcely believe his good fortune when they reported what they had seen and heard.
XIV. ATAHUALPA HEARS THE REQUIREMENTO
All that night, the conquistadors had remained on their guard, terrified by the sight of the Incas’ camp fires, which filled the valley for miles, as if half the stars had tumbled down from the heavens. Pizarro and the captains walked among them, trying to rouse their spirits, but although the Captain-General had a plan, the men were unable to imagine how such an audacious plot could work. Many of them prayed, expecting death, and a few of the younger fellows were so frightened they pissed themselves, especially as the first light of dawn lightened the horizon.
“To your places – via con Díos, Señores,” Pizarro said, saluting his captains as Atahualpa began to approach, accompanied by thousands of attendants, guards, and courtiers.
Pizarro climbed stone steps up to the roof of the little fort, where he could see several men-at-arms crouching out of sight behind a parapet. Pedro de Candia was standing nearby, with three of the expedition’s little cannon, which had been dragged up to the top of the fort during the night. Advancing to the edge of the roof, Pizarro glanced at the long, rectangular structures that fronted three sides of the square, opposite the gate – a typical thick, trapezoidal Inca gate. There were twenty doors opening onto the plaza and two hundred windows. A more perfect location for a surprise could hardly be imagined.
Slowly, with great pomp, Atahualpa’s entourage began to file into the yard, marching in perfect unison, four-by-four. The canopy-shaded litter carrying Atahualpa himself soon appeared, coming to a halt while his guards, nobles, officials, and attendants arranged themselves in their finery on all sides, carrying symbols of office and colourful, chequered standards.
Pizarro was joined by his personal secretary, Jerez, to whom he whispered, “Do you know how to use that?”
Jerez regarded his sword sceptically, and with a sigh replied, “Not really.”
“Well, don’t get yourself killed,” Pizarro chuckled. “I’m going to need you, when this is over, to come up with a plausible explanation for what’s about to happen....”
The Dominican priest, Father de Valverde, accompanied by Martinillo, walked alone out of the doors of one of the buildings fronting the plaza, approaching Atahualpa. The tonsured missionary carried a breviary in one hand and a processional cross in the other. He was nervous, but summoned his courage and stood in front of the Inca’s litter, holding the cross up so that Atahualpa could see the odd figure of Jesus, crucified.
“Pagan, do you accept the Messiah, Jesus Christ, as your Lord and Saviour? Do you renounce sin and the devil? Do you accept the obligation of obedience to the authority of the Holy Catholic Church in all matters spiritual!”
Martinillo took a deep breath, but before he began to speak, he said, “Father, I don’t think....”
“Tell him!” the priest cried.
“Father – he doesn’t understand what you’re saying,” Martinillo replied, “and I’m not sure how I can translate these ideas into Quechua. There is too much context.”
At the sound of the word ‘Quechua,’ Atahualpa scowled through his dangling fringe as Vincente de Valderde, ignoring Martinillo’s protest, continued to preach, speaking rapidly, almost breathlessly in Spanish:
“Jesus Christ, the Son of God, of David’s royal line, was born of the Virgin Mary. He is God incarnate – God made flesh – sent to earth to redeem mankind from certain destruction, for the Lord is merciful. He suffered, died, and was buried, in accordance with the scriptures: he rose from the dead so that men may enjoy eternal life. He invested his power to absolve sinners in the Holy Catholic Church, and in the Pope, whose representative I am....”
Looking affronted, suddenly, Atahualpa turned to Martinillo, to whom he said, “You’re one of us, aren’t you? Why are you with these bandits?”
Martinillo stared up at Atahualpa, even more dismayed now than he was a moment earlier, for it was clear to him – he could smell it now – that the Inca lord was drunk, and probably stoned as well, for the Inca lords, he knew, had access to all sorts of vision-inducing drugs that ordinary people were not allowed to consume.
“What in the hell is this old man saying?” Atahualpa demanded, speaking slowly, and with a slight slur. “Why doesn’t he shut up?”
“It’s all here in this book!” Father de Valverde concluded, handing his breviary to Atahualpa, who took it in his hands, staring at it, turning it round and round. At length, he opened the book, putting his nose in between the pages, sniffing the parchment and ink, peering closely at the little, closely-printed black shapes that meant nothing to him. It was one of the strangest and most incomprehensible objects he had ever seen.
“What is this?” he asked Martinillo.
“It’s....” Martinillo stopped, for Quechua did not have a word for book, as the Incas did not write. “It is a sort of record of their God.”
“We already have a God – several of them, in fact. Do these fools not know that?”
Snorting, disgusted, Atahualpa tossed the breviary over his shoulder, onto the ground.
Martinillo closed his eyes for a moment, unable to believe what was happening. He turned to Father de Valverde, who was gazing upon Atahualpa, horrified.
“You have blasphemed against God! That is holy scripture!”
Atahualpa giggled at the Padre, but said nothing. He merely sat back on his chair as the priest turned, marching toward the steps leading up to the roof of the fort. Martinillo followed him while the assembled Incas watched, curiously.
“See how the pagan has rejected Our Lord! I absolve you all, my brothers!”
Pizarro nodded to Pedro de Alconchel, who raised his trumpet and sounded the alarm. Instantly, the three cannons fired, hurling smoke and fire across the square, causing all the Incas to shrink back, astonished, even as the three shots ploughed through them. From the windows of the three long buildings, arquebuses and crossbows were fired, creating more visual and aural shock, cutting down dozens of Atahualpa’s followers, including two of his litter-bearers. As his gold throne wobbled, the Inca prince clutched the sides of his chair, aghast, and watched, mouth hanging open, as Spanish men-at-arms rushed from the doors of the buildings all around the square, crying out, “Santiago!”
The pikemen stormed into the shocked masses of Inca noblemen, bowling them over, cutting them down, bellowing, “Santiago!” Carrying only ceremonial arms made of gold, the nobles could offer no effective resistance to thrusting, cutting steel. Caballeros now were galloping through the doors of the buildings, led by Hernando de Soto. They waded through the crowds of Indians, who fled in every direction, desperately trying to find a means of escape. De Soto trampled men and chopped them asunder, crying, “Santiago!” At the gate, there was a frantic crush as men trampled each other to death, or were crushed and suffocated, trying to get out of the plaza. Pizarro himself rushed from the roof of the fort, accompanied by a small band of men whose sole objective was Atahualpa himself.
XV. THE RANSOM ROOM
The slaughter continued for two relentless hours as the sun set, and it only ended as darkness settled over the landscape and Pedro de Alconchel sounded the recall. The conquistadors retreated into the fortified plaza, literally covered from head to toe in blood and gore. The plain outside the gate was littered with the bodies of men cut down by de Soto’s charging cavaliers, while the plaza itself was so choked with corpses that they were piled in heaps.
“It’s a miracle!” Pizarro cried, grinning as he walked among his exhausted but exhilarated soldiers. “See the great victory our God has granted us!” Coming at last to their prisoner, Atahualpa, he said, “Why are you so sad?”
It was a barbaric question, Martinillo thought, but he translated the Captain-General’s words anyway.
“I had hoped to take you prisoner,” Atahualpa replied, still hiding behind his red fringe, “but things worked out differently.”
To the astonishment of the Spaniards, none of Atahualpa’s vast host made a move to attack them. They hung back, afraid, and in the morning when Hernando de Soto and Hernando Pizarro rode out to their camp, the warriors laid down their arms and gave every sign of submission. The Spanish troops were allowed to ride into Atahualpa’s camp, unobstructed, seizing everything that struck their fancy. Indeed, they returned with an immense haul of treasure. Pedro de Pineda, the goldsmith attached to the expedition, valued the plunder at eighty thousand pesos’ worth.
“That’s one-fifth of all the gold that’s ever been found in Castilla de Oro,” Pizarro reported, “and one-sixth of all the treasure taken in Nicaragua – and that in just two hours, Señores!”
As native prisoners hurriedly removed the dead bodies that choked the plaza, dragging them away to be buried in mass graves, Pizarro and his officers approached Atahualpa, who sat despondently in a rather large room, surrounded by guards. Only now did he push the fringe from his eyes, staring up at Pizarro, and he spoke in a strained and piteous voice.
“He wants to know if you intend to kill him,” Martinillo said.
“That is not our intention at the moment,” Pizarro explained. “Tell him that if he cooperates, he has nothing to fear.”
“If gold is what you want,” Atahualpa replied, “I will fill this room, up to a line above your head, with gold – all the gold you could possibly want. And then I will fill it twice over with silver, in return for my life.”
The Spanish officers glanced at the dimensions of the room, and then at Atahualpa.
“That’s a lot of gold,” Pizarro said, scoffing. “Where’s it going to come from?”
Atahualpa laughed – an almost insane laugh – but said, “You know nothing about this land. But trust me, if anything happens to me, you won’t get anything for your trouble, and you’ll all die. Let me live, and my people will pay a ransom beyond reckoning.”
“Boldly stated,” Pizarro said, stroking his beard as he considered the offer. “You know, I think I will hold you to this proposition.”
“He’s telling the truth,” Martinillo said. “He really means it.”
“You know,” Hernando Pizarro chuckled, “I’m actually beginning to like this fellow.”
Decisions had to be made – important ones. It was decided, to begin with, that Atahualpa would be allowed his dignity: he was to remain under guard, but he would be allowed to have his pick of Sun Maidens to attend him, and other servants as well, along with all the royal paraphernalia that seemed appropriate. He would continue to receive messengers and administer his empire. After all, he needed to make the arrangements necessary to raise his stupendous ransom. Runners were despatched to every part of the empire, informing the local chiefs that they should collect as much gold and silver as possible and sent it, at once, to Cajamarca.
XVI. DANGEROUS GAMES
During the days that followed, the full significance of what had happened at Cajamarca settled in. Pizarro, dictating his report to Jerez, said that eight thousand Indians had been killed, but the Incas themselves – very particular about numbers – counted seven thousand bodies. Most of those who had been killed were commanders, noblemen, officials, priests, and royal servants – they represented a significant portion of the Inca ruling class, almost the entire top and middle layers of the administration of the northern half of the empire. As Atahualpa’s surrendered soldiers melted away into the mountains and valleys, word of what the Spanish had done spread from village to village and town to town. Soon, porters and caravans of llamas began to appear at Cajamarca, loaded with gold and silver. A line was painted around the interior of what became known as the ransom room, and Pizarro promised to free Atahualpa as soon as the gold and silver vessels, implements, and statues reached the height of the line.
The gold and silver kept coming, a steady torrent now, forty or fifty, sixty or even seventy thousand pesos worth every day. Pizarro began to send small parties of troops out to supervise the gathering of the ransom. Captain Martín Bueno and two of his foot-soldiers volunteered to go to Cuzco, an especially dangerous task, to organize the gold shipments from the capital. In the meantime, some of the soldiers at Cajamarca were so worried there might not be enough gold that they began to smash the bowls and goblets, so that the ransom room might hold more, until Pizarro ordered them to stop.
Atahualpa, meanwhile, enjoyed himself as best he could under the circumstances. He dallied with his women, feasted, and learned how to play chess. De Soto, who commanded his guard, in fact spent hours with the Inca prince, not only teaching him how to play chess, but learning a great deal from him about this peculiar new land.
“Do you understand what a puppet is?” Captain de Soto asked Atahualpa one day.
He frowned, confused, as Martinillo did his best to convey the Spaniard’s idea.
“It’s a kind of symbol... and a person can be a puppet. They do the talking, but someone else does the thinking.” De Soto laughed, a little, and said, “I don’t think you’re very clever, Atahualpa. In fact, I think you’re proud for no good reason, and stupid to boot, like a lot of rich men’s children, but you could be the Captain-General’s mouthpiece. You can have all the women you want, eat well, dress in finery, live in a palace, have all sorts of gold and jewels, you’ll never have to think, or do any work, or risk your life in battle. We’ll do everything for you. Because here’s the thing, Atahualpa: we’re going to take over your country, and there’s nothing you can do about it. The only way you’ll ever be Sapac Inca is if you agree to work with us – for us.” De Soto paused, and finally said, “You know we have choices: there’s always Huascar. And there can only be one Sapac Inca.”
At that moment, de Soto’s teniente, Pedro de Cataño, stepped into the room and whispered, in Spanish, “Señor, we’ve just received word from Cuzco – Huascar has been executed. Almost the whole of the Cuzco aristocracy that sided with him have been eliminated – slaughtered, frankly. They even killed the children. Bueno says they even strangled Huascar’s sister-wife in front of him – made him watch. Can you believe it? What a bunch of savages.”
Atahualpa moved his queen across the chessboard, acting as if he had ignored de Soto’s words, and said – in Spanish – “Checkmate.”
De Soto glanced at Atahualpa, shaking his head, not quite sure whether the Inca prince was a brainless monster or an evil genius. Rising to his feet, he hurried outside with de Cataño, saying hurriedly, “Mind your tongue, my friend – Atahualpa understands more than he pretends to, I think, or else he’s very good at second-guessing us.”
On April 14, 1533, with the Andes winter coming on, Diego de Almagro appeared at Cajamarca with his long-anticipated reinforcements – one hundred and fifty-three men, with fifty horses, which was the best he could do. Pizarro was pleased, and welcomed his old comrade with open arms. Atahualpa, however, peered out from his room at the dismounting caballeros, realizing now that he was not dealing with marauders. This was an invasion: these men, whoever they were, intended to stay. How many of them were there? What on earth were these beasts they rode?
That’s all I really wanted from them, one of these beasts, Atahualpa sighed.
Pizarro meanwhile took Almagro to his private quarters, hurriedly explaining what had happened, and what the current situation was. His business partner listened intently, sitting down wearily as soon as his servants had helped him unbuckle his breastplate and other armour. Removing his helmet, he looked across at Pizarro, his greying temples wet with perspiration, and said, “You mean to tell me there are two of this Atahualpa’s generals still out there, somewhere, with armies amounting to something like a hundred thousand men? Jesus Christ, Fernando....”
“It’s hard to explain what numbers mean here,” Pizarro replied. “This isn’t Europe. When we attacked Atahualpa’s entourage, they had us outnumbered seventy-to-one. Eighty thousand warriors just stood all around us and watched – they didn’t so much as bat an eyelash. I tell you, Diego, without their leaders to tell them what to do, these Incas are rag dolls. They just give up. It’s as if they don’t know how to think for themselves. All we need to do is take down their leaders and put ourselves in charge.”
“Or perhaps they’re just very good at deception,” Diego replied. “You know what my Indian woman, Ana, calls us Spaniards, when she’s mad?”
“She calls us cockroaches. Don’t think, just because you don’t understand what they’re saying, they don’t have minds, that they don’t think. They do. And they don’t think we’re gods. They know exactly what we are.” After a pause, during which he accepted a pitcher of water from Pizarro’s African slave, Almagro added, “There’s such a thing as being over-confident, you know. Pride has killed more men than fear ever did – don’t let that damned knighthood go to your head. You can be killed as easily as any other man, and you’ll die in just as much pain.”
XVII. THE FAITHFUL GENERAL
As soon as Calcuchima heard that Atahualpa was being held captive, he marched from Cuzco toward Cajamarca. Hernando Pizarro rode to meet the on-coming Inca forces at Jauja, accompanied by Martinillo. With some difficulty, he obtained entry into the Inca camp and an audience with the commander of Atahualpa’s armies. The negotiations were tense, but after more than five days of deliberations, Calcuchima allowed himself to be persuaded to come to Cajamarca to speak with his lord, who – he was told – desperately wanted to see him. The ruse paid off: Calcuchima left his army at Jauja and hurried to Pizarro’s headquarters with Hernando, only to be imprisoned as soon as he arrived. Hernando and de Soto, wasting no time, immediately subjected the Inca general to interrogation.
“Where have you hidden the gold your troops plundered from Cuzco!”
“What are you talking about?” Calcuchima groaned as he lay strapped to a wooden table covered with straw. “Cuzco is a royal city – a sacred city. It’s the Centre of the Four Quarters. No one would dare plunder such a city.”
“We know all about Cuzco!” de Soto shouted. “Don’t pretend you don’t know anything!”
“Damned heathen,” Hernando Pizarro growled, “we’ll have the truth out of you! Stop lying to us!”
They stripped the general and applied hot tongs to his flesh, burning his skin until it blackened, smouldered, and bubbled.
“Confess, you devil-worshipping dog! Tell us where the God damned gold is!”
“Confess, you devil-worshipping dog! Tell us where the God damned gold is!”
The Inca, however, was both brave and stoic – he gritted his teeth and glared defiantly, but said nothing.
“Burn him alive,” de Soto said, grimly, and when his men did not move quickly enough, he bellowed, “A stake, firewood, straw – in the plaza – now!”
They released Calcuchima from his straps only to find that he was so badly injured he could scarcely stand, and had to be dragged across the stone pavement. De Soto stood him up against the stake, tying his hands behind his back – behind the post – personally, and pulling the ropes very tight.
“You’re going to hell,” said Hernando Pizarro, staring into the Inca general’s face. “Now, tell us where you hid the gold from Cuzco. We know your army took the city. We know you hold Huascar prisoner!”
They sent for Atahualpa, who seemed distressed to see the commander of his armies tied up in this fashion, with straw and firewood stacked around his legs and Spanish soldiers standing beside him holding lit torches.
“Don’t tell them anything,” Atahualpa said. “They’re just trying to intimidate you.”
Atahualpa was led away, and de Soto – who did not wish to be toyed with – ordered the soldiers to light their fires. The Spanish then stood back, letting Calcuchima struggle as smoke billowed into his face and flames licked and snapped at his bare legs.
“I’ll tell you everything you want to know! Please! Please – no more!”
“Cut him down,” de Soto said, grimly.
Captain Bueno and his men returned from Cuzco on May 13, announcing that several large trains of pack-llamas were on their way from the capital, laden with gold, and in mid-June, with his brother’s blessing, Hernando Pizarro left for the coast with a body of troops whose task was to see the royal fifth safely to San Miguel. Hernando himself was to travel with the treasure all the way back to Spain, accompanied by Jerez, where they were to deliver to the Emperor an official account of what had happened in Peru.
Only a few days after Hernando Pizarro’s departure, the Captain-General assembled his men and declared that he was ready, now, to distribute each man’s share of the compaña’s profits. The silver was ready, but the gold would have to wait until mid-July. Nine forges had been working day by day from mid-March until the ninth of July to keep pace with the steady influx of treasure. On some days, a quarter of a ton of precious artefacts was thrown into the cauldrons. The gold and silver was melted, poured off, measured, recorded, and struck into coins. Pedro de Pineda reported that he had prepared thirteen thousand, four hundred and twenty pounds of gold at twenty-two and a half carats. Twenty-six thousand pounds of silver had been melted down, as well.
A prize committee was assembled, composed of officers present at Cajamarca when Atahualpa was captured. They quickly decided that Almagro’s men would not share in any of the loot taken thus far. The prize belonged to those who had taken the risk: thus the shares were determined. After setting aside the royal fifth, and the amounts due to the Captain-General and his subordinate captains, each caballero was to have ninety pounds of gold and one hundred and eighty pounds of silver; each foot-soldier would receive half that amount. All told, Pizarro’s men lined up to receive over one million, three hundred thousand pesos worth of gold and some fifty-one thousand marks of silver. The Captain-General’s own share was fifty-seven thousand, two hundred and twenty gold pesos and two thousand, three hundred and fifty silver marks.
XVIII. DESPERATE MEASURES
Almagro was understandably angry that he and his men had been cut out of their share of the prize money. Indeed, he was furious, and he demanded to know what Pizarro intended to do, now, with Atahualpa. With the passes closed by winter snows, the Spanish garrison at Cajamarca was cut off from the coast and vulnerable: what if the Inca armies that were still in the field, still under arms, chose to attack, hoping to free the man they believed to be the rightful Sapac Inca?
“He has a point,” de Soto said, hearing Almagro’s argument in Pizarro’s presence. “Atahualpa has not been formally installed yet, as Sapac Inca. That can be done only in Cuzco, at the Temple of the Sun. Now that Huascar is dead, there is no emperor. There is no authority. If something isn’t done, soon, everything will begin to collapse.”
Rumours soon began to circulate at Cajamarca that Rumiñavi, commanding some thirty thousand men at Quito, was marching south to rescue Atahualpa. One of the Nicaraguan Indian scouts appeared, breathlessly reporting that he had seen an Inca army closing in from the north. Pizarro despatched de Soto with a small force of cavalry to ascertain whether or not this was true, sending Martinillo with him. On the southern front, for the time being, all was quiet, the Inca force at Jauja making no attempt to advance toward Cajamarca. Meanwhile, an Inca prince named Tupac Huallpa arrived at the Spanish camp who claimed to be the sole surviving male representative of Huascar’s lineage.
Tupac Huallpa told Pizarro and his officers the harrowing tale of his escape from the bloodbath unleashed by Atahualpa’s army after the capture of Cuzco. He was a handsome young man, only twenty-three, and thus he was readily believed when he told them that, at the time of the civil war, he had been hurled into prison for being caught, en flagrante, with one of his elder brother’s concubines. The poor woman was buried alive, but putting an Inca prince to death was not something done lightly, even by a Sapac Inca. After Huascar’s downfall, Tupac Huallpa had begged for mercy, arguing that he had been treated as an enemy by Huascar, despite the fact that they were related.
“Calcuchima ordered everyone to be put to death,” Tupac Huallpa said. “All the women who were pregnant were hanged on stakes, along the road. They hanged the children, too, and cut the unborn from their mothers’ wombs, and hanged them up as well.”
The Spanish soldiers listened, appalled, to Tupac Huallpa’s tale, and were mystified when they heard that even the mummies of Huascar’s ayllu had been dragged outside the city walls and burned.
“I came here because you’re the only people who can protect me,” Tupac Huallpa explained. “And maybe I can help you?”
That evening, Pizarro and his captains sat down to play cards, opening some bottles of wine that had been sent down from Panama. After several hands had been drawn, Almagro entered the Captain-General’s chamber and said, “Well, my lord, are you trying to get us all killed? The longer Atahualpa remains here, the more likely he is to call down one of his armies on our heads. Rumñavi could show up at any moment and wipe us out. We won’t receive any more supplies until the snow melts in the passes.”
Pizarro ran a hand through his hair, listening to his old friend’s words.
“He ought to be sent to Spain,” Almagro urged. “Or at least to Panama.”
“De Soto favours using Atahualpa as our puppet Inca,” Gonzalo remarked, glancing at his brothers.
“De Soto isn’t here,” Almagro retorted, quickly. “I say, take him out of the country at the first opportunity. He’s dangerous.”
After a long, thoughtful interval, Pizarro spoke, his words slow and deliberate. “Atahualpa has served his purpose, but I see no reason to send him into exile or kill him. Alive, he will be useful – he can help us win over the armies that lie between us and Cuzco.” Laying his cards down, Pizarro said, “He’s a bargaining chip.”
“Is that what you think? Do you think you can trust a native?” Almagro shook his head and stormed out of the room, leaving the other captains to regard Pizarro quizzically.
By morning, the soldiers were all in an uproar. Almagro had roused them to fury, and they were swarming around the plaza of Cajamarca, demanding Atahualpa’s death. Pizarro, fearing a mutiny, hastily convened a committee of officers, informing their captive that he was to stand trial for treason and rebellion against Huascar, polygamy, polytheism, deceit and treachery against the Spanish, murder, and a host of other crimes. Atahualpa scarcely could comprehend any of this, for the only interpreter available was Felipillo, who could not speak Quechua. Alas, the Spanish did not realize this, nor did they understand that Felipillo, eager to please and terrified, was making up Atahualpa’s responses.
The Inca prince was summarily condemned to death, but Father de Valverde came to him, saying, “You will be burned at the stake, as a pagan child of the devil, unless you confess your sins and accept Jesus Christ as your saviour, in which case you will be strangled, instead, but your soul will go to God.”
Felipillo spoke to Atahualpa in his Huacavilas tongue, which the Inca did not understand. The prisoner stared at the boy, then at Father de Valverde, and nodded gravely, although he had no idea what he was assenting to. He was shocked, in fact, to see the missionary making the sign of the cross over him, and he flinched as water was sprinkled on his forehead.
“I baptize thee, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.”
“You’re a fool,” Atahualpa muttered. “What do you think you’re doing? Do you realize no one here understands anything you say?”
“He says, ‘Gracias, Padre,’” Felipillo said.
Two soldiers marched forward, immediately, and seized Atahualpa, dragging him across the plaza toward the now empty ransom room, where he was ordered to stand with his back to a wooden post. Hurriedly, the soldiers pulled his arms back, trussing him tightly. A third conquistador stepped up behind Atahualpa and pulled a leather strap around his neck, slipping a wooden baton between the bands.
“What’s that damned noise? It sounds like two cats trying to make kittens,” one of the soldiers asked his companions.
“Sun Virgins – they’re beating their heads and crying, outside the door,” the man with the baton remarked. “They say they must be buried alive along with this stupid idiot. I told them we’re going to find nice Castilian husbands for them, instead.”
“Just you wait,” laughed the third soldier, “they’ll all be Doña this, Doña that, riding around in carriages, dressed like ladies and putting on airs. Too good for the likes of us. The hidalgos will take them on two or three a-piece.”
Father de Valverde, stepping through the door, folded his hands together and said, “Come on, now, boys – get on with it.”
“Do you have any last words, Atahualpa?” one of the soldados asked, standing in front of the Inca, who simply looked at him, aghast, before taking a deep breath and closing his eyes.
“Thanks for all the gold,” scoffed the man with the baton, and with a hard twist, he turned the baton once, twice, three times, and again – and once more, for good measure, until the gurgling stopped.
Father de Valverde mumbled Latin prayers and made the sign of the cross, while the soldados heaved a sigh of relief. It was not pleasant, after all, to watch a man choked to death, and finally see his neck break, his head lolling to one side, weirdly. The garrot was unwound, and Atahualpa’s lifeless body cut down.
XIX. THE MARCH TO CUZCO
Hernando de Soto, who learned that the rumors of an impending Inca attack were untrue, was furious when he returned to Cajamarca to find that Pizarro had allowed himself to be bullied into putting Atahualpa to death. Even so, there was little time for recrimination – the time for mud-slinging would come later. Realizing they had to move quickly, before the Inca general Quizquiz could proclaim a new Sapac Inca at Cuzco, Pizarro and his officers raised up Tupac Huallpa as the new ruler of the Four Quarters. De Soto, meanwhile, was ordered to lead the advance toward Cuzco with a mounted strike-force of chosen men.
A dashing cavalier, de Soto soon put aside his wrath and focused on his new charge – to capture a key, strategic rope bridge before the Incas could burn it. Pressing on as rapidly as they could, the Spanish caballeros covered two hundred and fifty miles, traversing some of the world’s most rugged terrain in just five days. The Pampas bridge across what the Spaniards called the Río Santa had been destroyed, but the men who had charge of it – partisans of Huascar – had hid away all the materials needed to repair the span, and they were more than happy to erect a new one, which they did with remarkable speed. Thus, Quizquiz’s troops gained only a few days’ respite by burning the Pampas bridge. At other points, the Spanish troops had no choice but to descend thousands of feet into dizzy canyons, fording torrents so deep that their horses were nearly swept away. However, they let nothing stop them.
At Jauja, Vilcas, and again at a place called Vilaconga, on November 8, 1533, the Inca troops attempted to stop de Soto’s vanguard. Of all these battles, the one at Vilaconga was the worst, as far as Pizarro was concerned. Here, de Soto’s fiery nature induced him to charge blindly up a hillside, into a gulley, where the Incas ambushed the conquistadors at close-quarters, knocking down horses and mobbing the men. Six soldados – all veterans of the massacre at Cajamarca – had their heads smashed open with clubs and rocks. More importantly, the Incas had demonstrated their ability to adapt and find new ways to deal with the weapons and tactics of the invaders. The best way to fight these strangers was to cling to their belt-straps. De Soto’s men, ultimately, were rescued only by the timely arrival of a relief force under Almagro’s command. Five days later, as soon as Pizarro’s troops joined them, the Inca general Chalcuchima was accused of treachery, condemned, and burned at the stake. He spurned the cross and baptism, to Father de Valverde’s dismay. The Inca general cried out the name of Viracocha and called upon Quizquiz to avenge him as the flames consumed him.
The Spanish army once more braved high mountain passes, and this time a freak snowstorm as it drove closer and closer to Cuzco. The hapless puppet-Inca, Tupac Huallpa, died at Jauja after a short illness, but another descendant of Huaypac Capac appeared, named Manco, who offered himself to Pizarro.
“We have come to liberate you – we heard of your great suffering, at the hands of the tyrants of Quito, and that is why we came here,” Pizarro told Manco. “Have no fear – we will take you to Cuzco, and you will have the royal fringe.”
Quizquiz’s army made one more stand in the mountains not far from Cuzco, but although they killed several horses and even drove Pizarro’s men back, at one point, the Inca troops were too wary to attack on open ground. They had learned, to their great cost, that the Spanish horsemen were nearly invincible on level, open land. In the end, Quizquiz’s troops abandoned the fight, leaving Cuzco to the conquerors. Pizarro and his troops thus paraded into the capital on November 15, 1533, hailed by the joyous inhabitants with loud cheers.
The fall of Cuzco was by no means the end of the conquest of Peru. Two of Atahualpa’s generals remained in the field, after all, with tens of thousands of disciplined warriors and access, still, to most of the resources of a vast empire. However, the civil war and the massacre at Cajamarca had fatally crippled the Inca administrative system. For the time being, Pizarro’s men held only a few points along a single road nearly a thousand miles long. The city of Cuzco itself, with a hundred thousand inhabitants, was almost more than they could handle, although here, too, they acquired a tremendous haul of loot, even larger than the plunder they had collected at Cajamarca.
Inevitably, as Peru was so large, Pizarro – like Cortes – had to delegate authority to his subordinates. De Soto was, for a time, in charge of Cuzco. Gonzalo and Juan, meanwhile, led troops north to capture Quito, while Almagro marched to conquer the southern part of the empire, or what is now the country of Chile. Pizarro at first tried to establish an administrative centre at Jauja, in the central Andean highlands, but by January 1535 he had abandoned this scheme in favour of a new capital on the Pacific coast at Lima. In the meantime, corruption charges were brought against Pizarro by the royal auditors who had accompanied his troops, and the Crown expressed its displeasure regarding the death of Atahualpa, who was inaccurately regarded at the Spanish court as a proper king. For a recently-elevated hidalgo like Pizarro to put a king to death, even a pagan king, was almost more than the Emperor Charles was willing to bear. Queen Isabela, meanwhile, was appalled when she began to hear how the Indians in Peru were being treated.
The Conquistadors, meanwhile, turned on each other as their mutual distrust and rivalries led to outright violence. Almagro rebelled against Pizarro, as did the puppet Inca, Manco, who led a massive revolt that nearly overwhelmed the conquistadors. The surviving Pizarro brothers rallied, defeating Almagro and his partisans at the Battle of Las Salinas in 1538, but they were unable to bring down Manco, who managed to escape with his forces to a secret city, hidden among the mountains and jungles on the eastern slope of the Andes, a place called Vilcabamba, which held out against repeated Spanish onslaughts until the capture and execution of Tupac Amaru, the last Sapac Inca, in 1572.
This story is based on several primary and secondary sources, ethnographies, and archaeological studies. The sources for the conquest of Peru are voluminous, complex, and also contested. To begin with, there is no clear distinction between “Spanish” and “Inca” accounts; most of the eye-witnesses on the Spanish side married women of the Inca aristocracy – often relatives of Atahualpa or Huascar. These women provided the Spanish with much of their information about Inca society and history. The Spanish eye-witnesses also incorporated into their chronicles a large amount of information gleaned from Inca priests, officials, and nobles. Some Spanish writers favoured Atahualpa, while others sided with Huascar, and thus there were, for example, multiple versions of Pizarro’s decision to put the former prince to death. Pizarro made many enemies, and – having put his old friend Almagro to death – he met his own violent end at Lima in 1541, being assassinated by Almagro’s Mestizo son, Mozo, who had joined his father in Peru. In the final, tragic act of the conquest, the remaining Pizarro brothers resisted the viceroy the Spanish crown eventually sent out to rule Peru, and – like Almagro – they were overpowered and destroyed.
Much as the Incas had done, the Spanish ruled the empire they had won through its local chiefs, termed caciques. The mita, or compulsory labour system, continued under Spanish rule, coupled with the rapacious encomienda system. Sprawling land grants – handed out by Pizarro himself – apportioned the land among the conquerors and their Hispanicized Inca relatives. Under the early viceroys of Peru, however, the mita system was much more destructive than it had been under the Incas. Much of the labour demanded by the Spanish was lavished upon the silver mines of Potosí, in what is now Bolivia, which were discovered in 1544. These mines produced much of the world’s silver for the next two hundred years, but they also devoured the lives of hundreds of thousands of men from all over the region. Finally, as in Mexico, the violence, forced dislocations, and new diseases occasioned by the Spanish conquest led to nearly catastrophic population collapse during the latter half of the 16th century. However – again, as in Mexico – the Spanish colonists remained a tiny minority, Indian cultures and languages survived, and although a thin veneer of Latin, Catholic culture was imposed on Peru, along with new technologies, political systems, and economies, the rhythms of pre-conquest life were not eradicated.
The dialogue in this story either is based on the writings and considerations of the individuals connected with Pizarro, or else is a close paraphrasing of dialogues presented or described in the chronicles of the conquest. The dramatic qualities of the story of the conquest of Peru are such that one has to invent very little in order to produce an interesting and exciting tale. In fact, what is truly amazing are all the details and fascinating side-stories that had to be omitted in order to maintain the focus of the narrative.
Eventually, I want to enlarge this story. I want to include more female characters – examining the cross-cultural relationships formed by Pizarro and his men – and I want to take the tale up to 1542. In that year, Francisco de Orellana, a subordinate of Gonzalo Pizarro, became the first European to travel down the Amazon River from the Andes to the Atlantic, having begun his march at Quito. The finished story, which probably will be long enough to be classified as a novella, will serve as an in-depth introduction to the European “discovery” and colonization of the Americas, and the resistance of indigenous peoples to the first wave of colonial rule.
 “The Four Quarters” was how the Incas referred to their empire. This was the meaning of the Inca word for their dominion, Tahuantinsuyu.
 Historians often have blamed Huayna Capac’s death on a smallpox epidemic, spreading from the Spanish settlements, but in fact there is no evidence for this. Indeed, pending further research, there is no evidence that smallpox or any other disease ravaged the people of the Andes until at least the 1550s.
 The Incas were a ruling elite composed of several noble lineages, or ayllus. Altogether, they numbered no more than 15,000-40,000 people, ruling over an empire with a population of at least 6-7 million.
 The language of the Incas, Quechua, has a subject-object-verb structure, employing agglutination to alter the meanings of words. Thus, the structure of the language cannot be reproduced in English.
 The Incas believed they were descended from the son and daughter of the Sun deity, Inti. Incestuous marriages were common in noble families, but not among commoners.
 Today, these are the Cordillera Occidental and Cordillera Oriental, corresponding to the Black and White Mountains of the Incas.
 Quechua was both the lingua-franca of the Inca Empire as well as the descriptor of its most heavily-populated and productive biome. In fact, the main Quechua-speaking areas of South America today roughly correspond with the extent of this ecological zone.
 This scene imagines the death of a girl whose mummified body was discovered in the late 1990s as glaciers retreated from some of the highest peaks of the Andes due to Global Warming. Her frozen and preserved body presently is on display at the Museum of High-Altitude Archaeology in Argentina.
 “Hidalgo” was a term used in Spain for the lower nobility. Because of the long wars of the Reconquista against the Moors – lasting some seven hundred years – knighthoods were fairly common in Spanish society, but many hidalgos possessed no land or else very small estates.
 The old town, Viejo Panama, is situated in the north-eastern part of present-day Panama City. It would be abandoned after being sacked and burned by the British pirate Henry Morgan, a new, better-defended city being built a few miles to the southwest.
 Balsawood, lightweight and buoyant, was harvested by the Incas from the Amazon rainforest and transported across the Andes for use on the Pacific Ocean.
 The primary campaigns of the Spanish conquest of Mexico took place between 1519 and 1521, although it would take several more years to bring the entire region under Spanish control.
 Castilla de Oro was the name initially given by the Spanish to the Caribbean coastlines of the modern countries of Panama and Columbia.
 A Spanish word meaning “lieutenant,” usually second-in-command to a captain. In the New World, most early European expeditions were commanded by captains, being too small to require officers of higher rank.
 Cacicazgo, referring to the office of cacique, or official chief of a village under Spanish control. Caciques were responsible for supplying labour to the Spanish, as requested.
 The Spanish had made their first raids into Nicaragua in 1522, six years prior to this scene.
 Dávila accused Balboa of trying to instigate a mutiny against him. Rather ironically, he had nurtured Balboa’s career up to that point, even offering the young officer his daughter’s hand in marriage.
 Cortes’s orders were to take a small force and make a reconnaissance of the coast of Mexico. Instead, he took with him much of the Cuban garrison and personally invaded the Aztec Empire without waiting for his superior, Velasquez, to come take command.
 The plundering of Panama had yielded the Spanish about 400,000 pesos worth of gold, but the Crown expected one-fifth of this, and the rest had to be shared out among the soldiers over a span of several years. Each soldier’s cut was relatively modest.
 An arquebus was an early version of the musket. Arquebuses were heavy, firing a large shot designed to penetrate armour, and therefore they had to be fired from portable tripods. The firing mechanism was a matchlock, employing a fuse rather than a flintlock, which made it nearly impossible to fire several of these guns in unison. The advantages of the arquebus was that anyone could learn how to use the weapon quickly; it could be reloaded more rapidly than a crossbow; and the report, muzzle flash, and smoke did seem to have some psychological effect on indigenous people.
 Here, Espinosa refers to Amerigo Vespucci, the Italian navigator after whom the Americas are named; he also described the Amazon, which was not yet known by that name. The Spanish, for lack of a better word, called it the Río Grande.
 Ferdinand Magellan made his epic round-the-world voyage in the early 1520s, his ship reaching Spain in 1522. Magellan did not complete the voyage because he was killed in a skirmish in the Philippines.
 The Portuguese had landed in Brazil in 1500, but they would not try to settle there for another thirty-two years.
 A Spanish navigator operating in concert with Pizarro and Almagro had sailed several hundred miles south along the Peruvian coast, although he did not see much. The heartland of the Inca Empire lay inland between the two ranges of the Andes. The Pacific coastline of South America is arid and rather bleak, and was not densely populated.
 Many Greeks had migrated to Genoa during the Renaissance as the Ottomans overran the Aegean islands, quite a few of which were ruled by Genoa as trading posts. These individuals – Columbus himself being an example – often had technical skills which the Spanish and Portuguese crowns desperately needed. The Spanish invasion of the New World, in fact, drew not just Spaniards to the Americas, but people of many European nationalities and also black Africans who had been absorbed into Spanish society during the late Middle Ages.
 Pizarro may in fact have been present at Santo Domingo when the priests there preached their famous sermons, accusing the settlers of “mortal sin” because of their brutal treatment of the indigenous peoples of the Caribbean.
 This refers to the Comuneros’ Revolt of 1521-1522.
 The Spanish Empire at the time included Sicily and Naples; the Low Countries were Belgium and the Netherlands. The Holy Roman Empire included most of Germany, Czechoslovakia, and Austria.
 In 1498, the Portuguese had discovered the sea route around Africa to India. They immediately planted militarized colonies along the route and launched an all-out armed assault on the strategic “choke-points” of Indian Ocean maritime trade, which they hoped to pry out of the hands of the Muslim powers.
 This refers to the beginning of the Wars of Religion in Germany. Early on, the Catholic powers expected an easy victory over the Protestant German princes, but the Reformation was to prove impossible to quell, especially after Henry VIII of England – initially married to a Spanish princess, Catherine of Aragon – essentially severed his ties with the Papacy in 1534.
 Here Cortes tells the story of Milintzin, who was part of his advisory council during the invasion of the Aztec Empire. At least one of Cortes’s men later said that it would have been impossible for Cortes to have conquered Mexico without her aid. For this reason, Milintzin is considered by many Mexicans today to be the archetypal traitor.
 One of the reasons for Cortes’s visit to Spain was that he wanted to obtain decrees making his illegitimate Mestizo children legitimate, so that they could inherit part of his fortune and marry into the Spanish aristocracy.
 During the conquest of Mexico, Cortes had to battle on two fronts. On one front, he was engaged in both fighting and tricky diplomacy with the Aztecs, while on the other he was trying to prevent himself from behind hauled away in chains by a Spanish force sent from Cuba to stop him. At the time of Montezuma’s capture, Cortes was away from Tenochtitlan, on the coast, subverting the Spanish force that had just landed there.
 Dávila, rather than being demoted or recalled, had been sent to govern Nicaragua, which at the time was well on its way to becoming even more important than Panama.
 The Treaty of Tordesillas was an agreement reached between Spain and Portugal after Columbus’s voyage to the New World in 1492. The Pope agreed to divide the world in half by drawing an imaginary line through the Atlantic Ocean. However, the Tordesillas Line assumed that the Earth was flat, and it actually cut through South America, which had not been discovered yet at the time of the original treaty. Spain was to have exclusive rights to all newly-discovered lands west of the Line, while Portugal was to have the same rights east of the Line.
 In the 1490s, as the Spanish Christians destroyed the last Muslim powers on the Iberian peninsula, royal decrees were issued requiring all Jews and Muslims to leave the country or convert to Islam. Probably something like 1 million Muslims converted, becoming Moriscos, but the sincerity of their transformation into Christians continued to be doubted for generations. Spanish Christians also harboured doubts about the converts from Judaism, too. Recent research has revealed that a large number of Moriscos and Jewish converts quickly joined in the conquest of the Americas, perhaps looking for a place where they could enjoy more freedom and live in a less Christianized society.
 In Spain, the Portuguese gold coin called the cruzado was legally equivalent to one ducado. A ducado, meanwhile, was roughly equivalent to two pesos. However, it is nearly impossible to establish the weights and relative values of early Spanish American currencies because the minting system, official values, and prices varied and changed so frequently during the 16th century.
 Pizarro had served under Carrillo during the early entradas of Dávila’s invasion of Tierra Firme.
 The size of the Spanish contingents permitted to go to the New World sometimes seems ridiculously small, but from the perspective of the Emperor Charles V, Spain was primarily a source of military manpower for his wars in Germany and Italy. He allowed only enough men to go to the Americas to keep the gold and silver flowing, much of which he and his successors squandered on dynastic and religious wars in Europe.
 The Spanish had conquered the Canary Islands from its Stone Age inhabitants in the early 1400s. Because of their location with respect to prevailing currents and winds in the southern part of the North Atlantic Ocean, the Canaries were the usual point of departure for ships bound for the Americas. Returning fleets usually sailed northward, returning to Europe via the Azores.
 In the Middle Ages, it was common for specific trades – to certain places, or in certain products – to be exclusive monopolies enjoyed by the merchant guilds of a particular city. Kings protected these monopolies as a way of gaining support from these cities. Monopolies, however, were periodically renewed, and at such times the monarchy expected substantial payments in return for affirming the arrangement. Seville’s monopoly lasted until well into the 18th century.
 Since warfare in the 16th century was in some ways organized looting, armies typically marched with merchants in tow so that they could dispose of captured property quickly and profitably.
 This speech, which may or may not be historical, is mentioned in several of the sources.
 Although Atahualpa clearly took pains to surround himself with an aura of divinity and royalty, and although he wore the royal fringe, he was not considered Sapac Inca, and he never would be: he could only assume legitimate control over the empire by being recognized in an appropriate ceremony at the Sun Temple in Cuzco.
 Huacas were hierophanies, or locations imbued with sacred power: they could be groves, rocks, hills, springs, almost anything. Many of them were held to be oracles and served by local shamans. There were reputedly nine huacas around Huamachuco.
 The indigenous tribes of the Americas were knitted together by extensive trade routes, although goods and information travelled much further than individuals. In the same way that Inca trade goods had reached Columbia and Panama, news of the conquistadors had reached Peru.
 Hernando de Soto was from the same part of Spain as Pizarro, and the two men had come to know each other already in Panama and Nicaragua. After participating in the conquest of Peru, de Soto would go on to explore what is now the south-eastern United States, and would die somewhere in Arkansas or Louisiana.
 Like other sophisticated American civilizations, the Incas possessed metallurgical skills, but not the ability to make iron. They were, in many ways, a Neolithic culture, and their contest with the Spanish may be seen, on a superficial level, as a battle between the Renaissance and the late Stone Age.
 Among the Incas, nudity was a matter of shame, and thus criminals and traitors usually were stripped before being publicly executed.
 The Inca road system, in fact, extended for more than 10,000 miles, consisting of two long, parallel routes running north-south, connected at intervals by short, lateral roads.
 One of the obstacles faced by Spain in its attempt to colonize the Americas was the fact that Spanish peasant families did not want to move to the colonies and take up farming. Thus, Spanish colonization was a military conquest of indigenous peoples, with African slaves later providing the bulk of the “settler” population in many areas.
 The intense violence of the conquistadors, although inexcusable, nevertheless has a context: these were men raised in a society that had been at war for more than seven centuries. Those who had been in the New World any length of time also probably were suffering from various psychological conditions connected with prolonged exposure to danger and violence, unknown at the time, such as post-traumatic stress disorder.
 The account of the meeting between the Spanish and Atahualpa, given here, is based upon the eye-witness accounts of several men who accompanied de Soto.
 Atahualpa is said to have ordered the soldiers who flinched at the sight of the Spanish horses to be put to death later that evening.
 The remarkably human image of scared conquistadors peeing in their own cod-pieces at the thought of confronting the Incas is included in the Spanish chronicles. Whether true or not, it certainly serves to humanize men who were about to commit an atrocity.
 From the point of a view of a member of the Inca elite, the crucified Christ would have seemed a truly bizarre and inappropriate religious image.
 Many secondary sources give the name of the interpreter at Cajamarca as Felipillo, but this was not the case. Only one eye-witness account mentions the interpreter’s name, and it specifies that Martinillo walked out with Father de Valverde. The stories about Felipillo being caught having an affair with one of Atahualpa’s concubines is simply absurd, and was an invention by later writers who sought to vilify Felipillo after he turned against the Spanish later in his career.
 It is rather ironic that Father de Valverde thus gave his consent to the massacre of Atahualpa’s court, as he would later be appointed “Protector of the Indians” for the province of Peru.
 Atahualpa’s litter-bearers remained where they were until they were all killed. As the litter toppled over, Atahualpa was taken by Pizarro himself, although a Spanish soldier tried to kill him. Pizarro, however, managed to parry the man’s sword, at the last moment, and thus saved the Inca leader’s life.
 Tourists visiting Cajamarca today often are shown a very large room, and told it is the “ransom room” of Atahualpa, but in fact the room was a somewhat smaller storage shed. One must remember that a small volume of gold is still worth a considerable amount of money.
 In one of his conversations, Atahualpa admitted to Pizarro that his intention had been to massacre the Spanish and steal their horses, as he had been delighted by de Soto’s demonstration of horsemanship.
 Pizarro was attended by at least one African slave, who acted as his herald, and possibly by others. Although a regular trans-Atlantic slave trade had not yet been organized – it would arise after 1550 – probably hundreds of Africans had come to the New World via Spain, sometimes as slaves, but often as freedmen. At least one African conquistador participated in the conquest of Peru, and was awarded an encomienda in what is now Chile.
 In fact, as far as we know, Calcuchima was telling the truth. Cuzco had not been looted, although the ayllu mansion of Huascar’s lineage had been deliberately desecrated and most of his family murdered.
 The precise numbers were 1,326,539 gold pesos and 51,610 marks of silver. In terms of 2012 US dollars, at present-day gold prices, the gold pesos alone would be worth more than $306 million.
 Hernando de Soto led the Spanish vanguard into the city that day, and the city’s occupation began with the immediate seizure of the Inca palace quarter by Pizarro and his captains, each man drawing lots to see who would receive which palace. Soon afterward, Manco was given the fringe and made Sapac Inca, his elevation being celebrated with a festival lasting several days.
Copyright, William Lailey, 2012.