Montezuma is too busy dealing with one disaster after another, each one rocking his world, to notice the resentment growing in the vassal states. First the famine and now severe floods right here in the capital.
LakeTexcocois a natural lake formation within theValleyofMexico. The Aztecs built the capital on an island in the lake complete with causeways, floating markets and an abundance of gardens irrigated by the lake water. The Emperor always enjoyed the scent of the flowers on the night air, but now the water that nourishes those very gardens threatens to wipe out the city. The lake rose mysteriously over the course of a few days and he is reminded of the dream years ago:
The lake that surrounds the city boils and rises to great height although there is no wind and destroys almost half the houses.
And truly many of the houses and buildings on the lake shore are inundated—just as if the lake had boiled over. As a short term solution, he orders cotton bags filled with sand placed around the city in a last ditch attempt to save it.
In regards to the multiple catastrophes striking the Empire, his advisors and priests all have the same answer: more sacrifices to the gods. But the Empire is almost a victim of its own success—there are no more tribes to go to war against, and thus a scarcity of captured warriors to send to the temples to appease the gods. Over the years as many as twenty thousand at a time had been sacrificed to nourish the gods.
The Aztec strategy was to subjugate the tribes and villages and then demand tribute in the form of taxes and warriors for sacrifice. Although the Aztec military structure resembles other armies, their methods of warfare differ greatly from the tactics and strategy of any other culture. Highly organized and well trained, their main objective on the battlefield was not to force their opponents to retreat, but to capture as many of them alive as possible.
In a close pitched battle, the Aztecs would employ weapons such as bows and arrows, spears, and wooden swords studded with sharp stones. The Aztec sword was not meant to kill, but to disable the enemy with a blow to the knee or leg, so that men from the rear could tie them with ropes and take them prisoner. When an Aztec soldier captured two enemies, they were promoted in rank.
The Aztec army consisted of Eagle warriors and Jaguar warriors. The Eagle warriors generally carried spears, and had eagle plumage as their uniform. They were the rank and file troops of the Aztec army, and wore no armor.
The best of the Eagle warriors were promoted to Jaguar warrior, who carried swords and wooden shields. Jaguar warriors were the Aztec crack troops, and were highly feared by other tribes.
Consisting of groups of approximately 8,000 men, the majority of warriors were new recruits who would be anxious to increase their social standing through victory on the battlefield. The more experienced warriors would be placed in strategic locations in order to afford the greatest chance of obtaining multiple captives. As the soldiers engaged in more and more battles, they would achieve higher ranks based upon the number of captives.
The highest ranking Jaguar soldiers would be paired with a warrior of similar status and adorned with magnificent garb. They fought in pairs throughout the entire battle and should one die, it was the duty of the other to die too. This fighting team would then seek out similar or higher ranked warriors from the enemy army.
Aztecs could remain in the field for months or even years if need be. At any given time the army would consist of several hundred thousand soldiers, of whom at least 100,000 would be porters accompanying the troops, each carrying as much as 50 pounds in material.
The Aztec army once marched 500 miles south from theValleyofMexicoto the coast to defeat and kill a local tribal chief who had made the fatal mistake of executing a group of 160 Aztec merchants. At its zenith, the Aztec army consisting of 400,000 men attacked a coastal kingdom, burnt the city and captured all the inhabitants.
So according to the priests, the series of bad events demonstrates the gods demand more blood, more hearts, and that they are no longer satisfied with brave warriors but crave females and children.
Now the villages and towns under Aztec rule will have to contribute more than grain and jade—they will now be forced to give up their virgin children to the Empire so they can be sacrificed to the gods.
While the Emperor tries to deal with disasters and the future Heroine suffers her loss, Cortés The Conqueror accompanies Diego Velásquez in his expedition to conquerCuba—a prize sought bySpainsince the Italian explorer Christopher Columbus sighted the island on his way toAmerica.
Cubais the largestCaribbeanisland by far and the battle for it is marked by stiff resistance from the natives. With only three ships and 300 men, including young Cortés, who was a clerk assigned to the treasurer of the expedition, Diego Velásquez decided that brute force would be the best course of action. Also along on the expedition was a Spanish cleric named Las Casas, since one of the prime objectives of the Spanish in theNew Worldwas to convert the natives to Christianity. Ironically, it was this priest who would eventually be a champion of the Indians as intelligent and sophisticated people and go on to document the horrors of the conquest and denounce those responsible.
The small expedition landed on the southern coast, where they established a settlement at Baracca. The task could have been relatively easy except that Hatuey, an Indian Chief fromHaitihad paddled over toCubafirst with several hundred followers. He sought to warn to the inhabitants about the atrocities committed by the Spanish back inHaitiand theDominican Republic, and to incite them to resist the invasion.
But in fact the Indians inCubawere peaceful and even offered food to the Spanish, so initially he won over only few supporters. That is until Diego Velásquez made a huge mistake.
Arriving at the town ofCaonaoin the evening, the Spanish found two thousand people, who had prepared a great feast consisting of cassava bread and fish from the ocean. But it quickly become obvious the Indians of Caonao were frightened—not just by the Spanish, but even more by their horse—animals which they had never seen before. At least five hundred more natives were hiding in a large hut and afraid to come out.
Perhaps attempting to head off a war with Hatuey by a brutal show of force, either someone ordered a massacre or something spooked the Spanish. One of them suddenly drew his sword, then all the others drew theirs and began to slaughter the Indians—men, women, children, all of whom were seated, off guard and frightened. Within minutes, not one of them remains alive.
In a blood lust the Spanish then entered the large hut nearby and begin to kill as many as they found there, so that blood streamed in puddles on the wooden floor and ran out into the dirt.
As if Hatuey wasn’t already fired up by the Spanish, now he had proof to show the Indians of Cuba what they were dealing with. He managed to gain more supporters and waged a guerilla war against the Spanish, who retreated and feared to leave their fortified settlement at Baracca.
It is three years before the Spanish gain control. Those three years are marked by stiff resistance from the natives, until Hatuey is betrayed, and Velásquez has him burned alive at the stake in front of as many Indians as he can muster.
The mission is ultimately successful however, and Velásquez is appointed governor. At the age of 26, Cortés is made clerk to the treasurer with the responsibility of ensuring that the Spanish Crown receives customary one-fifth of the profits from the expedition. He works hard and keeps meticulous records, a result of his legal schooling and writing abilities. For his efforts Cortés is granted a large estate there and more Indian slaves.
But the most important lesson Cortés learns has nothing to do with record keeping. He has seen the brutality of his leaders and comrades first hand and understands it only prolonged the conquest needlessly. The Indians would probably have accepted Spanish rule—and conversion to Christianity—without bloodshed. He vows to himself that when it is his turn he will not repeat this mistake.