For nearly two years Cortés continues to make conquests of his own—the female variety—and each adds to his personal treasury until he finally accumulates enough to buy passage to Haiti and set himself up as a colonist.
The ship on which he travels happens to be commanded by Alonso Quintero. It is part of a fleet, for no one dares such a journey in solitude. But Quintero orders the sails deployed to their fullest extent so as to race ahead. He signals to the rest of the fleet he will scout forward so as to clear the route of any dangers. But in fact Quintero tries to deceive his superiors and reach the New World before them in order to secure advantage for himself. Quintero’s mutinous conduct will serve as a model for Cortés in his subsequent career: Seize whatever advantage you can.
Upon his arrival in Santo Domingo, the 18-year-old Cortés registers as a citizen, which entitles him to a building plot and land to farm. Soon afterwards, Nicolas Ovando, still the governor, tries to make up for the lad’s disappointment at missing the original sailing, and gives him a labor force of Indian slaves and makes him a notary of a small town.
Cortés works hard and the next five years help establish him in the young colony. He works just as hard after hours and manages to sleep with every woman in sight, including more than a few of his native female slaves. Though the Spanish consider the natives no more than property, to be used as one pleases, Cortés finds himself fascinated with their caramel skin and earthy manners—always willing to please their master.
But his extracurricular activities eventually led to an STD, a mild case of syphilis which the Europeans called the ‘pox’. Cortés does not know if he caught it from one of his Spanish women, who would have undoubtedly been infected by some vile and disgusting sailor, transporting it across the ocean, or one of the native women since it is said by many the disease actually originated in the New World.
In any case Cortés manages to recover just in time to take part in the conquest of Cuba.
Montezuma has no knowledge of the Conqueror’s slow but steady progression westward, nor the Heroine’s appetite for learning—after all she is merely a child and just one of a million of his subjects. But the sense of impending doom is with him always, visited upon him by those dreams years ago. His advisors repeatedly assure him there is nothing to worry about, but the Emperor realizes now they are yes men and fools. He regrets more than once having the old Coyote skinned alive, for it appears his predictions are coming to pass.
The first troubling sign is the sudden and mysterious crop failure which is leaving the people hungry. Then just last month the whole of the kingdom shook violently, toppling a few buildings and frightening everyone.
He decides to visit the ‘Place of Heavenly Learning’ to seek relief from his depression and answers to what he hopes are the riddles of those dreams. But the priests that practice there frighten even the Emperor’s advisors, for they remain in constant trance states brought on by the Peyote cactus. The advisors attempt to dissuade Montezuma, as much out of their fear as the fear of that temple’s priest gaining too much influence, but he will have none of it—the frightening dreams and warnings from Coyote are still so vivid in his memory.
The two priests that greet the Emperor would seem to be worse than the cure. Black robed and vile smelling—they believe that bathing would wash off the holy blood that encrusts their self inflicted cuttings—lead Montezuma deep into the recesses of the temple. His entourage can do nothing but wait outside.
Seated around a smoldering fire—in the 100 degree heat—the priests give him a potent mixture of Psilocybin mushrooms and ground seeds of the Rivea-corybosa plant. The psychedelic seeds are used by the Aztec priests in order to help them commune with the gods. Because of the extremely fine line between safe and lethal doses, the ground seeds are only ingested by the most experienced priests. Dosages of less than 10 seeds are employed for spiritual experiences, which last for up to 8 hours. The traditional method of preparation is to soak the finely ground or chewed seeds in a small amount of water for several hours, then consuming both the water and seeds. This time, due to the importance of the ceremony with the Emperor himself, the priests add the sacred mushrooms.
They lead Montezuma in the holy chants and then one priest hands him a razor sharp obsidian knife. The Emperor promptly cuts his tongue to draw blood and spits it into the fire. Then he makes a small cut in each arm. As both a political and a religious leader, the Emperor is expected to sacrifice more blood than any of the priests and he does so willingly. The Aztecs believe the gods give things to humans only if they are nourished by humans and according to the priests only blood will serve as that nourishment.
The chants grow louder and more frenzied as Montezuma pierces his own penis and dances around the fire dripping blood into the flames. The loss of blood, the heat, and the drugs have their effect and he falls into a deep trance exploding with images of nature and the gods. The relief for which Montezuma hoped is not forthcoming, but instead there are dark beasts flying around his head…
The priests sense their Emperor is going over the edge, he is moaning and writhing in fear and they realize the seed and mushroom mixture may have been too much. One leaves and returns with a black crane, a magnificent and rare sacred bird kept only in the temple, and present it to Montezuma, letting him hold it, hoping it will calm him.
The crane has a dazzling colorful crest and as Montezuma peers at it he see stars in reflection and sticks that spit out fire. Then the vision changes to show the advances of warriors riding great four legged beasts like huge deer which spout smoke from their nostrils. He believes they are demons sent from the gods and in fear and panic rips the bird to shreds with his bare hands, spewing its blood over the fire and the two priests…
When the Emperor returns to the palace the following day he is greeted with more bad news: in his absence his sister Paranazin has died without warning. Grief stricken at the continued course of bad events, Montezuma orders an elaborate state funeral.
Most of the Aztec capital turns out for the event in honor of the Emperor and the funeral procession winds through city’s flower gardens and neat streets on the way to the royal crypt as onlookers stand silent in respect. Suddenly in the middle of the journey Paranazin sits up and screams. She is alive, back from the dead and the people watching flee in panic.
It turns out Paranazin was in a cataleptic trance for days and mistaken for dead, but even more chilling is what she reports to her brother.
“I received a vision from the gods that showed great ships coming from a distant land. These ships carried hairy faced men who arrived bearing weapons, carrying banners, and wearing ‘metal hats’. These strange looking men are to become masters of the Aztecs.”
The Emperor questions his sister over and over, but she does not sway in her recollection.
Then, as if to drive home the point like a spear into his head, a light with three heads and sparks shooting from its tail is seen flying in the eastward sky for many days. The prophecy is coming true.
Montezuma’s advisors’ response to this new vision is to suggest more sacrifices and out of fear he agrees. Since there have been few battles lately, there is a lack of captured warriors, the preferred source of human hearts and blood—for the braver the warrior the better the sacrifice. This means the villages under the rule of the Aztec Empire will have to provide…