The Broken Spears

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The Aztec Account of the Spanish Conquest of Mexico

Miguel León-Portilla's book "The Broken Spears"

The Omens as Described by Sahagun's Informants

The first bad omen: Ten years before the Spaniards first came here, a bad omen appeared in the sky. It was like a flaming ear of corn, or a fiery signal, or the blaze of daybreak; it seemed to bleed fire, drop by drop, like a wound in the sky. It was wide at the base and narrow at the peak, and it shone in the very heart of the heavens.

This is how it appeared: it shone in the eastern sky in the middle of the night. It appeared at midnight and burned till the break of day, but it vanished at the rising of the sun. The thine during which it appeared to us was a full year, beginning in the year 12-House.

When it first appeared, there was great outcry and confusion. The people clapped their hands against their mouths; they were amazed and frightened, and asked themselves what it could mean.

The second bad omen: The temple of Huitzilopochtli burst into flames. It is thought that no one set it afire, that it burned down of its own accord. The name of its divine site was Tlacateccan [House of Authority].

And now it is burning, the wooden columns are burning! The flames, the tongues of fire shoot out, the bursts of fire shoot up into the sky!

The flames swiftly destroyed all the woodwork of the temple. When the fire was first seen, the people shouted: "Mexicanos, come running! We can put it out! Bring your water jars ... ! " But when they threw water on the blaze it only flamed higher. They could not put it out, and the temple burned to the ground.

The third bad omen: A temple was damaged by a lightning-bolt. This was the temple of Xiuhtecuhtli which was built of straw, in the place known as Tzonmolco. It was rainIng that day, but it was only a light rain or a drizzle, and no thunder was heard. Therefore the lightning-bolt was taken as an omen. The people said: "The temple was struck by a blow from the sun."

The fourth bad omen: Fire streamed through the sky while the sun was still shining. It was divided into three parts. It flashed out from where the sun sets and raced straight to where the sun rises, giving off a shower of sparks like a red-hot coal. When the people saw its long train streaming through the heavens, there was a great outcry and confusion, as if they were shaking a thousand little bells.

The fifth bad omen: The wind lashed the water until it boiled. It was as if it were boiling with rage, as if it were shattering itself in its frenzy. It began from far off, rose high in the air and dashed against the walls of the houses. The flooded houses collapsed into the water. This was in the lake that is next to us.

The sixth bad omen: The people heard a weeping woman night after night. She passed by in the middle of the night, wailing and crying out in a loud voice: "My children, we must flee far away from this city!" At other times she cried: "My children, where shall I take you?"'

The seventh bad omen: A strange creature was captured in the nets. The men who fish the lakes caught a bird the color of ashes, a bird resembling a crane. They brought it to Motecuhzoma in the Black House.'

This bird wore a strange mirror in the crown of its head. The mirror was pierced in the center like a spindle whorl, and the night sky could be seen in its face. The hour was noon, but the stars and the mamalhuaztli could be seen in the face of that mirror. Motecuhzoma took it as a great and bad omen when he saw the stars and the mamalhuaztli.

But when he looked at the mirror a second time, he saw a distant plain. People were moving across it, spread out in ranks and coming forward in great haste. They made war against each other and rode on the backs of animals resembling deer.

Motecuhzoma called for his magicians and wise men and asked them: "Can you explain what I have seen? Creatures like human beings, running and fighting ... But when they looked into the mirror to answer him, all had vanished away, and they saw nothing.

The eighth bad omen: Monstrous beings appeared in the streets of the city: deformed men with two heads but only one body. They were taken to the Black House and shown to Motecuhzoma, but the moment he saw them, they all vanished away.

The Omens as Described by Munoz Camargo

Ten years before the Spaniards came to this land, the people saw a strange wonder and took it to be an evil sign and portent. This wonder was a great column of flame which burned in the night, shooting out such brilliant sparks and flashes that it seemed to rain fire on the earth and to blaze like daybreak. It seemed to be fastened against the sky in the shape of a pyramid, its base set against the ground, where it was of vast width, and its bulk narrowing to a peak that reached up and touched the heavens. It appeared at midnight and could still be seen at dawn, but in the daytime it was quelled by the force and brilliance of the sun. This portent burned for a year, beginning in the year which the natives called 12-House-that is, 1517 in our Spanish reckoning.

When this sign and portent was first seen, the natives were overcome with terror, weeping and shouting and crying out, and beating the Palms of their hands against their mouths, as is their custom. These shouts and cries were accompanied by sacrifices of blood and of human beings, for this was their practice whenever they thought they were endangered by some calamity.

This great marvel caused so much dread and wonder that they spoke of it constantly, trying to imagine what such a strange novelty could signify. They begged the seers and magicians to interpret its meaning, because no such thing had ever been seen or reported anywhere in the world. It should be noted that these signs began to appear ten years before the coming of the Spaniards, but that the year called 12-House in their reckoning was the year 1517, two years before the Spaniards reached this land.

The second wonder, sign or omen which the natives beheld was this: the temple of the demon Huitzilopochtli, in the sector named Tlacateco, caught fire and burned, though no one had set it afire. The blaze was so great and sudden that wings of flame rushed out of the doors and seemed to touch the sky. When this occurred, there was great confusion and much loud shouting and wailing. The people cried: "Mexicanos! Come as quickly as you can! Bring your water jars to put it out!" Everyone within hearing ran to help, but when they threw water on the fire, it leaped up with even greater violence, and thus the whole temple burned down.

The third wonder and sign was this: a lightning-bolt fell on a temple of idolatry whose roof was made of straw. The name of this temple was Tzonmolco, and it was dedicated to their idol Xiuhtecuhtli.The bolt fell on the temple with neither flash nor thunder, when there was only a light rain, like a dew. It was taken as an omen and miracle which boded evil, and all burned down.

The fourth wonder was this: comets flashed through the sky in the daytime while the sun was shining. They raced by threes from the west to the east with great haste and violence, shooting off bright coals and sparks of fire, and trailing such long tails that their splendor filled the sky. When these portents were seen, the people were terrified, wailing and crying aloud.

The fifth wonder was this: the Lake of Mexico rose when there was no wind. It boiled, and boiled again, and foamed until it reached a great height, until it washed against half the houses in the city. House after house collapsed and was destroyed by the waters.

The sixth wonder was this: the people heard in the night the voice of a weeping woman, who sobbed and sighed and drowned herself in her tears. This woman cried: "0 my sons, we are lost ...!" Or she cried: "0 my sons, where can I hide you...?"

The seventh wonder was this: the men whose work is in the Lake of Mexico-the fishermen and other boatmen, or the fowlers in their canoes-trapped a dark-feathered bird resembling a crane and took it to Motecuhzoma so that he might see it. He was in the palace of the Black Hall; the sun was already in the west. This bird was so unique and marvelous that, no one could exaggerate its strangeness or describe it well, A round diadem was set in its head in the form of a clear and transparent mirror, in which could be seen the heavens, the three stars in Taurus and the stars in the sign of the Gemini. When Motecuhzoma saw this, he was filled with dread and wonder, for he believed it was a bad omen to see the stars of heaven in the diadem of that bird.

When Motecuhzoma looked into the mirror a second time, he saw a host of people, all armed like warriors, coming forward in well-ordered ranks. They skirmished and fought with each other, and were accompanied by strange deer and other creatures.

Therefore, he called for his magicians and fortune-tellers, whose wisdom he trusted, and asked them what these unnatural visions meant: "My dear and learned friends, I have witnessed great signs in the diadem of a bird, which was brought to me as something new and marvelous that had never been seen before. What I witnessed in that diadem, which is pellucid like a mirror, was a strange host of people rushing toward me across a plain. Now look yourselves, and see what I have seen."

But when they wished to advise their lord on what seemed to them so wondrous a thing, and to give him their judgments, divinations and predictions, the bird suddenly disappeared; and thus they could not offer him any sure opinion.

The eighth wonder and sign that appeared in Mexico: the natives saw two men merged into one body-these they called tlacantzolli ("men-squeezed-together") -and others who had two heads but only one body. They were brought to the palace of the Black Hall to be shown to the great Motecuhzoma, but they vanished as soon as he had seen them, and all these signs and others became invisible. To the natives, these marvels augured their death and ruin, signifying that the end of the world was coming and that other peoples would be created to inhabit the earth. They were so frightened and grief-stricken that they could form no judgment about these things, so new and strange and never before seen or reported.

The Wonders and Signs Observed in Tlaxcala

Other signs appeared here in this province of Tlaxcala, a little before the arrival of the Spaniards. The first sign was a radiance that shone in the east every morning three hours before sunrise. This radiance was in the form of a brilliant white cloud which rose to the sky, and the people were filled with dread and wonder, not knowing what it could be.

They also saw another marvelous sign: a whirlwind of dust that rose like a sleeve from the top of the Matlalcueye, now called the Sierra de Tlaxcala.' This sleeve rose so high that it seemed to touch the sky. The sign appeared many times throughout a whole year and caused the people great dread and wonder, emotions which are contrary to their bent and to that of their nation. They could only believe that the gods had descended from heaven, and the news flew through the province to the smallest villages. But however this may have been, the arrival of a strange new people was at last reported and confirmed, especially in Mexico, the head of this empire and monarchy.

Chapter Two

First Reports of the Spaniards' Arrival


The Cronica Mexicana by Fernando Alvarado Tezozomoc relates how Motecuhzoma consulted various seers and magicians to learn whether the omens meant an approaching war or some other crisis. They could not give him a satisfactory answer. However, a poor macehual (common man) arrived shortly afterward from the Gulf coast, bringing the first word of the appearance of "towers or small mountains floating on the waves of the sea." A later report said that the mountains bore a strange people who "have very light skin, much lighter than ours. They all have long beards, and their hair comes only to their ears."

Motecuhzoma was even more distressed by this news than he had been by the omens. Therefore, he sent messengers and gifts to the strangers, believing that they might be Quetzalcoatl and other divinities returning to Mexico, as the codices and traditions promised they would.

Motecuhzoma Questions the Magicians

Motecuhzoma summoned the chief officials of all the villages. He told them to search their villages for magicians and to bring him any they found. The officials returned with a number of these wizards, who were announced and then brought in to the king's presence. They knelt before him, with one knee on the floor, and did him & greatest reverence. He asked them: "Have you not seen strange omens in the sky or on the earth? In the caves under the earth, or in the lakes and streams? A weeping woman, or strange men? Visions, or phantasms, or other such things?"

But the magicians had not seen any of the omens that Motecuhzoma sought to understand, and therefore could not advise him. He said to his petlacalcatll [head steward): "Take these villains away, and lock them up in the Cuauhcalco prison. They shall tell me against their will." The next day he called for his pettacalcatl and said to him: "Tell the magicians to say what they believe: whether sickness is going to strike, or hunger, or locusts, or storms on the lake, or droughts, and whether it will rain or not. If war is threatening Mexico, or if there will be sudden deaths, or deaths caused by wild beasts, they are not to hide it from me. They must also tell me if they have heard the voice of Cihuacoatl, for when something is to happen, she is the first to predict it, even long before it takes place."

The magicians answered: "What can we say? The future has already been determined and decreed in heaven, and Motecuhzoma will behold and suffer a great mystery which must come to pass in his land. If our king wishes to know more about it, he will know soon enough, for it comes swiftly. This is what we predict, since he demands that we speak, and since it must surely take place, he can only wait for it."

The petlacalcatll returned to Motecuhzoma and told him openly what they had said, that what was to come would come swiftly. Motecuhzoma was astonished to find that this agreed with the prediction made by Nezahualpi king of Tezcoco.' He said to the petlacalcatl: "Question them again about this mystery. Ask them if it will come from the sky or the earth, and from what direction or place it will come, and when this will happen."

The petlacalcatl went back to the prison to question them, but when he entered and unlocked the doors, he was terrified to discover that they were not there. He returned to Motecuhzoma and said to him: "My lord, command that I be cut to pieces, or whatever else you wish: for you must know, my lord, that when I arrived and opened the doors, no one was there. I have special guards at the prison, trustworthy men who have served me for years, but none of them heard them escape. I myself believe that they flew away, for they know how to make themselves invisible, which they do every night, and can fly to the ends of the earth. This is what they must have done."

Motecuhzoma said: "Let the villains go. Call the chiefs together, and tell them to go to the villages where the magicians live. Tell them to kill their wives and all their children, and to destroy their houses." He also ordered many servants to go with them to ransack the houses. When the chiefs arrived, they killed the women by hanging them with ropes, and the children by dashing them to pieces against the walls. Then they tore down the houses and even rooted out their foundations.

A Macebual Arrives from the Gulf Coast

A few days later a macehual [common man] came to the city from Mictlancuauhtla. No one had sent him, none of the officials; he came of his own accord. He went directly to the palace of Motecuhzoma and said to him: "Our lord and king, forgive my boldness. I am from Mictlancuauhtla. When I went to the shores of the great sea, there was a mountain range or small mountain floating in the midst of the water, and moving here and there without touching the shore. My lord, we have never seen the like of this, although we guard the coast and are always on watch."

Motecuhzoma thanked him and said: "You may rest now." The man who brought this news had no ears, for they had been cut off, and no toes, for they had also been cut off.

Motecuhzoma said to his petlacalcath "Take him to the prison, and guard him well." Then he called for a teuctlama cazqui [priest] and appointed him his grand emissary. He said to him: "Go to CuetlaxtIan, and tell the official in charge of the village that it is true, strange thin have appeared on the great sea. Tell him to investigate these things himself, so as to learn what they may signify. Tell him to do this as quickly as he can, and take the ambassador Cuitlalpitoc with you."

When they arrived in Cuetlaxtlan, the envoys spoke with the official in charge there, a man named Pinotl. He listened to them with great attention and then said: "My lords, rest here with me, and send your attendants out to the shore." The attendants went out and came back in great haste to report that it was true: they had seen two towers or small mountains floating on the waves of the sea. The grand emissary said to Pinotl: "I wish to see these things in person, in order to learn what they are, for I must testify to our lord as an eyewitness. I will be satisfied with this and will report to him exactly what I see." Therefore he went out to the shore with Cuitlalpitoc, and they saw what was floating there, beyond the edge of the water. They also saw that seven or eight of the strangers had left it in a small boat and were fishing with hooks and lines.

The grand emissary and Cuidalpitoc climbed up into a broad- limbed tree. From there they saw how the strangers were catching fish and how, when they were done, they returned to the ship in their small boat. The grand emissary said: "Come, Cuitlalpitoc." They climbed down from the tree and went back to the village, where they took hasty leave of Pinotl. They returned as swiftly as possible to the great city of Tenochtitlan, to report to Motecuhzoma what they had observed.

When they reached the city, they went directly to the king's palace and spoke to him with all due reverence and humility: "Our lord and king, it is true that strange people have come to the shores of the great sea. They were fishing from a small boat, some with rods and others with a net. They fished until late and then they went back to their two great towers and climbed up into them. There were about fifteen of these people, some with blue jackets, others with red, others with black or green, and still others with jackets of a soiled color, very ugly, like our ichtilmatli. There were also a few without jackets. On their heads they wore red kerchiefs, or bonnets of a fine scarlet color, and some wore large round hats like small comales, which must have been sunshades. They have very light skin, much lighter than ours, They all have long beards, and their hair comes only to their ears."

Motecuhzoma was downcast when he heard this report, and did not speak a word.

Preparations Ordered by Motecubzoma

After a long silence, Motecuhzoma finally spoke: "You are the chiefs of my own house and palace and I can place more faith and credit in you than in anyone else because you have always told me the truth. Go with the petlacalcati and bring me the man who is locked up in the jail, the macehual who came as a messenger from the coast." They went to the jail, but when they opened the doors, they could not find him anywhere. They hurried back to tell Motecuhzom \a, who was even more astonished and terrified than they were. He said: "It is a natural thing, for almost everyone is a magician. But hear what I tell you now, and if you reveal anything of what I am about to command, will bury you under my halls, and your wives and children will be killed, and your property seized. Your houses will be destroyed to the bottom of their foundations, until the water seeps up, and your parents and all your kin will be put to death. Now bring me in secret two of the best artists among the silversmiths, and two lapidaries who are skillful at working emeralds."'

They went and returned and said to him: "Our lord, here are the craftsmen you commanded us to bring you."Motecuhzoma said: "Tell them to enter." They entered, and he said to them: "Come here to me, my fathers. You are to know that I have called for you to have you make certain objects. But take care that you do not reveal this to anyone, for if you do, it will mean the ruin of your houses to their foundations, and the loss of your goods, and death to yourselves, your wives, your children and your kin, for all shall die. Each of you is to make two objects, and you are to make them in my presence, here in secret in this palace."

He told one craftsman: "Make a throat-band or chain of gold, with links four fingers wide and very thin, and let each piece and medallion bear rich emeralds in the center and at the sides, like earrings, two by two. Then make a pair of gold bracelets, with chains of gold hanging from them. And do this with all the haste in the world."

He ordered the other craftsman to make two great fans with rich feathers, in the center of one side a half-moon of gold, on the other a gold sun, both well burnished so that they would shine from far away. He also told him to make two gold armlets rich with feathers. And he ordered each of the lapidaries to make two double bracelets-that is, for both wrists and both ankles-of gold set with fine emeralds.

Then he ordered his petlacalcatltl to bring in secret many canutos of gold, and plumage of the noblest sort, and many emeralds and other rich stones of the finest quality. All of this was given to the artisans and in a few days they had finished their work. One morning, after the king had risen, they sent a palace hunchback to the king Motecuhzoma, to beg him to come to their workroom.

When he entered, they showed him great reverence and said: "Our lord, the work is finished. Please inspect it." Motecuhzoma saw that the work was excellent, and he told them that all had been done to his satisfaction and pleasure. He called for his petlacalcatl and said: "Give each of these, my grandfathers, a portion of various rich cloths; and huipiles and skirts for my grandmothers; and cotton, chiles, corn, squash seeds and beans, the same amount to each." And with this the craftsmen returned to their homes contented....

Chapter Three

The Messengers' journeys


The native documents-principally those by Sahagun's informants- describe the various journeys made by Motecuhzoma's messengers to the Gulf coasts where the strangers had appeared. The texts describing the instructions that Motecuhzoma gave to his envoys are presented first. These show clearly how the Nahuas attempted to explain the coming of the Spaniards by a projection of earlier ideas: they assumed that the new arrivals were Quetzalcoatl and other dieties.

Then the documents relate how the messengers reached the coast and were received by the Spaniards, to whom they brought gifts from Motecuhzoma. The descriptions of the gifts offered to Cortes, and of his successful attempt to frighten the messengers by firing an arquebus in front of them, are especially interesting.

The third part of this chapter deals with the messengers' return to Tenochtitlan and the information they brought back to Motecuhzoma about the Spaniards, their firearms, the animals they rode (a species of huge "deer," but without horns), their mastiff dogs and so on.

All the texts in this chapter are from the Codex Florentino.

Motecuhzoma Instructs His Messengers

Motecuhzoma then gave orders to Pinotl of Cuetlaxtdan and to other officials. He said to them: "Give out this order: a watch is to be kept along all the shores at Nahuatl, Tuztlan, Mictlancuauhtla, wherever the strangers appear." The officials left at once and gave orders for the watch to be kept.

Motecuhzoma now called his chiefs together: Tlilpotonque, the serpent woman, Cuappiatzin, the chief of the house of arrows, Quetzalaztatzin, the keeper of the chalk, and Hecateupatiltzin, the chief of the refugees from the south. He told them the news that had been brought to him and showed them the objects he had ordered made. He said: "We all admire these blue turquoises, and they must be guarded well. The whole treasure must be guarded well. If anything is lost, your houses will be destroyed and your children killed, even those who are still in the womb."

The year 13 -Rabbit now approached its end. And when it was about to end, they appeared, they were seen again. The report of their coming was brought to Motecuhzoma, who immediately sent out messengers. It was as if he thought the new arrival was our prince Quetzalcoatl.

This is what he felt in his heart: He has appeared! He has come back! He will come here, to the place of his throne and canopy, for that is what he promised when be departed!

Motecuhzoma sent five messengers to greet the strangers and to bring them gifts. They were led by the priest in charge of the sanctuary of Yohualichan. The second was from Tepoztlan; the third, from Tizatlan; the fourth, from Huehuetlan; and the fifth, from Mictlan the Great. He said to them: "Come forward, my Jaguar Knights, come forward. It is said that our lord has returned to this land. Go to meet him. Go to hear him. Listen well to what he tells you; listen and remember."

The Gifts Sent to the New Arrivals

Motecuhzoma also said to the messengers: "Here is what you are to bring our lord. This is the treasure of Quetzalcoatl. This treasure was the god's finery: a serpent mask inlaid with turquoise, a decoration for the breast made of quetzal feathers, a collar woven in the petatillo style with a gold disk in the center, and a shield decorated with gold and mother-of-pearl and bordered with quetzal feathers with a pendant of the same feathers.

There was also a mirror like those which the ritual dancers wore on their buttocks. The reverse of this mirror was a turquoise mosaic: it was encrusted and adorned with turquoises. And there was a spear-thrower inlaid with turquoise, a bracelet of chalchihuites hung with little gold bells and pair of sandals as black as obsidian.

Motecuhzoma also gave them the finery of Tezcatlipoca. This finery was: a helmet in the shape of a cone, yellow with gold and set with many stars, a number of earrings adorned with little gold bells, a fringed and painted vest with feathers as delicate as foam and a blue cloak known as "the ringing bell," which reached to the ears and was fastened with a knot.

There was also a collar of fine shells to cover the breast. This collar was adorned with the finest snail shells, which seemed to escape from the edges. And there was a mirror to be hung in back, a set of little gold bells and a pair of white sandals.

Then Motecuhzoma gave them the finery of Tlaloc.This finery was: a headdress made of quetzal feathers, as green as if it were growing, with an ornament of gold and mother-of-pearl, earrings in the form of serpents, made of chaicbibuites, a vest adorned with chalchihuites and a collar also of chalchihuites, woven in the petatillo style, with a disk of gold.

There was also a serpent wand inlaid with turquoise, a mirror to be hung in back, with little bells, and a cloak bordered with red rings.

Then Motecuhzoma gave them the finery of Quetzalcoatl. This finery was: a diadem made of jaguar skin and pheasant feathers and adorned with a large green stone, round turquoise earrings with curved pendants of shell and gold, a collar of chalchihuites in the petatillo style with a disk of gold in the center, a cloak with red borders, and little gold bells for the feet.

There was also a golden shield, pierced in the middle, with quetzal feathers around the rim and a pendant of the same feathers, the crooked staff of Ehecatl with a cluster of white stones at the crook, and his sandals of fine soft rubber.

These were the many kinds of adornments that were known as "divine adornments." They were placed in the possession of the messengers to be taken as gifts of welcome along with many other objects, such as a golden snail shell and a golden diadem. All these objects were packed into great baskets; they were loaded into panniers for the long journey.

Then Motecuhzoma gave the messengers his final orders. He said to them: "Go now, without delay. Do reverence to our lord the god. Say to him: 'Your deputy, Motecuhzoma, has sent us to you. Here are the presents with which he welcomes you home to Mexico."

The Messengers Contact the Spaniards

When they arrived at the shore of the sea, they were taken in canoes to Xicalanco. They placed the baskets in the same canoes in which they rode, in order to keep them under their personal vigilance. From Xicalanco they followed the coast until they sighted the ships of the strangers.

When they came up to the ships, the strangers asked them: "Who are you? Where are you from?"

"We have come from the City of Mexico."

The strangers said: "You may have come from there, or you may not have. Perhaps you are only inventing it. Perhaps you are mocking us." But their hearts were convinced; they were satisfied in their hearts. They lowered a hook from the bow of the ship, and then a ladder, and the messengers came aboard.

One by one they did reverence to Cortes by touching the ground before him with their lips. They said to him: "If the god will deign to hear us, your deputy Motecuhzoma has sent us to render you homage. He has the City of Mexico in his care. He says: 'The god is weary."'

Then they arrayed the Captain in the finery they had brought him as presents. With great care they fastened the turquoise mask in place, the mask of the god with its crossband of quetzal feathers. A golden earring hung down on either side of this mask. They dressed him in the decorated vest and the collar woven in the petatillo style-the collar of chalchihuites, with a disk of gold in the center.

Next they fastened the mirror to his hips, dressed him in the cloak known as "the ringing bell" and adorned his feet with the greaves used by the Huastecas, which were set with chalchihuites and hung with little gold bells. In his hand they placed the shield with its fringe and pendant of quetzal feathers, its ornaments of gold and mother-of-pearl. Finally they set before him the pair of black sandals. As for the other objects of divine finery, they only laid them out for him to see.

The Captain asked them: "And is this all? Is this your gift of welcome? Is this how you greet people?"

They replied: "This is all, our lord. This is what we have brought you."

Cortes Frightens the Messengers

Then the Captain gave orders, and the messengers were chained by the feet and by the neck. When this had been done, the great cannon was fired off. The messengers lost their senses and fainted away. They fell down side by side and lay where they had fallen. But the Spaniards quickly revived them: they lifted them up, gave them wine to drink and then offered them food.

The Captain said to them: "I have heard that the Mexicans are very great warriors, very brave and terrible. If a Mexican is fighting alone, he knows how to retreat, turn back, rush forward and conquer, even if his opponents are ten or even twenty. But my heart is not convinced. I want to see it for myself. I want to find out if you are truly that strong and brave."

Then he gave them swords, spears and leather shields. He said: "It will take place very early, at daybreak. We are going to fight each other in pairs, and in this way we will learn the truth. We will see who falls to the ground! "

They said to the Captain: "Our lord, we were not sent here for this by your deputy Motecuhzoma! We have come on an exclusive mission, to offer you rest and repose and to bring you presents. What the lord desires is not within our warrant. If we were to do this, it might anger Motecuhzoma, and he would surely put us to death."

The Captain replied: "No, it must take place. I want to see for myself, because even in Castile they say you are famous as brave warriors. Therefore, eat an early meal. I will eat too. Good cheer!"

With these words he sent them away from the ship. They were scarcely into their canoes when they began to paddle furiously. Some of them even paddled with their hands, so fierce was the anxiety burning in their souls. They said to each other: " My captains, paddle with all your might! Faster, faster! Nothing must happen to us here! Nothing must happen ..."

They arrived in great haste at Xicalanco, took a hurried meal there, and then pressed on until they came to Tecpantlayacac. From there they rushed ahead and arrived in Cuetlaxtlan. As on the previous journey, they stopped there to rest. When they were about to depart, the village official said to them: "Rest for at least a day! At least catch your breath! "

They said: "No, we must keep on! We must report to our king, Motecuhzoma. We will tell him what we have seen, and it is a terrifying thing. Nothing like it has ever been seen before! " Then they left in great haste and continued to the City of Mexico. They entered the city at night, in the middle of the night.

Motecuhzoma Awaits Word from the Messengers

While the messengers were away, Motecuhzomaa could neither sleep nor eat, and no one could speak with him. He thought that everything he did was in vain, and he sighed almost every moment. He was lost in despair, in the deepest gloom and sorrow. Nothing could comfort him, nothing could calm him, nothing could give him any pleasure.

He said: "What will happen to us? Who will outlive it? Ah, in other times I was contented, but now I have death in my heart! My heart bums and suffers, as if it were drowned in spices ... ! But will our lord come here? "

Then he gave orders to the watchmen, to the men who guarded the palace: "Tell me, even if I am sleeping: 'The messengers have come back from the sea."' But when they went to tell him, he immediately said: "hey are not to report to me here. I will receive them in the House of the Serpent. Tell them to go there." And he gave this order: "Two captives are to be painted with chalk."

The messengers went to the House of the Serpent, and Motecuhzoma arrived. The two captives were then sacrificed before his eyes: their breasts were torn open, and the messengers were sprinkled with their blood. This was done because the messengers had completed a difficult mission: they had seen the gods, their eyes had looked on their faces. They had even conversed with the gods!

The Messengers' Report

When the sacrifice was finished, the messengers reported to the king. They told him how they had made the journey, and what they had seen, and what food the strangers ate. Motecuhzoma was astonished and terrified by their report, and the description of the strangers' food astonished him above all else.

He was also terrified to learn how the cannon roared, how its noise resounded, how it caused one to faint and grow deaf. The messengers told him: "A thing like a ball of stone comes out of its entrails: it comes out shooting sparks and raining fire. The smoke that comes out with it has a pestilent odor, like that of rotten mud. This odor penetrates even to the brain and causes the greatest discomfort. If the cannon is aimed against a mountain, the mountain splits and cracks open. If it is aimed against a tree, it shatters the tree into splinters. This is a most unnatural sight, as if the tree had exploded from within."

The messengers also said: "Their trappings and arms are all made of iron. They dress in iron and wear iron casques on their heads. Their swords are iron; their bows are iron; their shields are iron; their spears are iron. Their deer carry them on their backs wherever they wish to go. These deer, our lord, are as tall as the roof of a house.

"The strangers' bodies are completely covered, so that only their faces can be seen. Their skin is white, as if it were made of lime. They have yellow hair, though some of them have black. Their beards are long and yellow, and their moustaches are also yellow. Their hair is curly, with very fine strands.

"As for their food, it is like human food. It is large and white, and not heavy. It is something like straw, but with the taste of a cornstalk, of the pith of a cornstalk. It is a little sweet, as if it were flavored with honey; it tastes of honey, it is sweet- tasting food.

Their dogs are enormous, with flat ears and long, dangling tongues. The color of their eyes is a burning yellow; their eyes flash fire and shoot off sparks. Their bellies are hollow, their flanks long and narrow. They are tireless and very powerful. They bound here and there panting, with their tongues hanging out. And they are spotted like an ocelot.

When Motecuhzoma heard this report, he was filled with terror. It was as if his heart had fainted, as if it had shriveled. It was as if he were conquered by despair.

Chapter Four

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