Prince of Mexico – Chapter Five & Six
By: Mark Kodama

V.

Cortes knew he had found the fabled El Dorado, the land of riches. Some say
He was lucky. But one must know how to take advantage of opportunity
Cortes mulled over what need to be done to seize the opportunity. A few days\\
Later, his answer came in the form of five Indians visitors from Cempoalla.
They invited Cortes to their recently subjugated city.

Cortes decided to free himself from Velasquez Cortes's
Closest friends – Alonzo Puertocarrero, Pedro de Alvarado, Christoval
De Olid and Alonso Avila – urged the men to start a new colony to
Replace Velsaquez as authority for the expedition. The men had nothing
To show for their sacrifice and risk while riches waited for them
In Mexico. Velasquez prevented them from taking this new land. They
Owed a higher duty to their sovereign Charles V to conquer Mexico
For Spain. Velasquez's men urged Cortes to return to Cuba. Cortes told
Velasquez's men he would follow the advice of the Army and return to
Cuba even though he thought they should stay in Mexico. Cortes's friends
And men demanded that Cortes rescind his orders. Cortes did and drafted
A charter to form a new government called the Villa Rica de Vera Cruz,
Under the leadership of his friend Puertocarrera. Cortes resigned as
Captain General under Velasquez. Puertocarrera appointed Cortes captain-general
And chief justice of Vera Cruz and gave him one-fifth of all wealth taken in the
Expedition. Cortes told his men that he had only wished to trade with the Mexicans
But would listen to them. When Velasquez's men protested, he arrested three of them.
Men deceive, are ungrateful,greedy and run from danger. It is necessary for a leader - to
Maintain power – to learn not to be good.

Cortes led his Army north to Cempoalla through the barren wasteland,
The turquoise Atlantic Ocean to their right. They crossed a river to a land
Of green forest, colorful flowers teeming with life – butterflies, birds, game.
The conquistadors passed deserted villages with great stone pyramids, their
Altars and idols bloodied with the remains of human sacrifices. They also
Found books written in hieroglyphs in the language of the Indians. As Cortes
And his men neared Cempoalla, men and women of the city lined the road
Mantled in colorful cotton garments and gold jewelry. The simpler
Houses were made of clay bricks; the better houses built from stone and
Thatched with palm frond roofs. Farms and orchards lined both sides of
The road. The people showered their guests with colorful flowers. Surely.
These were a rich and civilized people.

Cortes and his men met the Fat Chief at his great stone mansion. The Fat
Chief greeted Cortes with a great smile. Cortes told the Fat Chief that he
Travelled across the waters from a far away land. He represented the great
King that ruled those lands, and he came to bring the true word of God to
The people of Mexico. The Fat Chief replied that his gods brought the sun
And rain and they were good to his people. Their problem was the oppressive
Rule of the Great Montezuma. Montezuma punished any actions that displeased
Him by sacrificing the young men and women of their city to the blood thirsty
Aztec gods. Cortes said he help the Tontonacs regain their freedom.
The Fat Chief told Cortes other countries – including the Tlascalans –
Opposed rule of the Aztecs. They knew about the power of the Spaniards
And their victory over the Tabascans. A ruler must avoid, incurring the
Hatred of his subjects like Montezuma. His empire was a house of cards
That was about to fall.

Five Aztec tax collectors appeared. They told the Fat Chief that Montezuma
Would punish him because he had not given him permission to speak to
Cortes. They demanded surrender of twenty young men and twenty young
Women to be sacrificed to the Aztec gods. Cortes told the Fat Chief to
Arrest the tax collectors. The Fat Chief seized and bound the Aztec officials.
Cortes then released the tax collectors to Montezuma, asking for a meeting.

Cortes returned to Vera Cruz, where the Spaniards and the Cempoallans
Built a fortified town Cortes caught one of his men, stealing two chickens
From a local family. Cortes brought hung the man from a tree in front of the
Entire army. The solider frantically kicked as the rope strangled him. His eyes
Bulged and spit dripped from his open mouth before he stopped moving.
Pedro de Alvarado on horseback cut the rope with his sword, saving the man.
It is good to be loved and feared. But if you have to choose, it is better to be
Feared than loved.

Meanwhile, Montezuma sent an embassy to thank Cortes for saving his tax
Collectors. They brought gifts of gold, feathers and cotton. The Fat Chief
Asked Cortes to settle a dispute between him and another city. After
Cortes reconciled the two cities, the cacique offered Cortes eight young
Women as wives to his men. Cortes said he could only consent if the
His people became Christians. The Fat Chief replied that they would
Defend their own gods with their lives. Cortes told his men:

"Heaven will not smile upon us if we allow human sacrifice
And worship of false idols!" Cortes's men marched to the temple.
Indian warriors gathered at the temple. Cortes threatened to kill
The Fat Chief, elders and priests and threatened to kill them
Unless their warriors disarmed. Marina warned the Fat Chief that
Without the Spaniards the Aztecs would take revenge on his people
Because they arrested their tax collectors. The Fat Chief, covering
His face, said his gods would have to avenge themselves. The Spaniards
Tumbled the wood idols down the temple steps and burned them.
They cleaned the temples and replaced the idols with the
Virgin and Child.

Cortes returned to Vera Cruz. His friend Puertocarrera and Montejo,
A friend of Velasquez, left for Spain to convince Charles V to confirm
Cortes's appointment. When their ship stopped in Cuba, Montejo sent a messenger
To Velasquez to advise him of all the developments. A surprised and angry
Velaquez mustered a new army to arrest Cortes.

A group of soldiers led by the priest Juan Diaz tried to seize a ship
And return to Cuba but they were betrayed. Cortes arrested the men.
Escudero, the Sheriff, and another were hung. His pilot had his toes cut off.
The rest of the men were scourged. Diaz, claiming clerical
Privilege, went unpunished. Cortes burned all his ships, save one.
There was no turning back. They would conquer or die.

VI.

Cortes gathered his forces at Cempoala: four hundred foot, fifteen horse,
Seven cannons, one thousand three hundred Indian warriors and
One thousand porters. They began their trek to Tenochtitlan, the great
City in the center of the mountain lake, home to the Great Montezuma.
Cortes left Escalante in charge of Vera Cruz with his remaining men
To defend against attacks of Velasquez or the Aztecs. In grand speech,
Cortes said: "We finally embark on the enterprise of our greatest desires.
Our Savior will help us to victory in our every battle. You only must
Believe in Him and yourselves. Indeed, the only refuge we have is the
Providence of God and your own stout hearts."

The soldiers made the difficult march from the rainy coastal plain
And muddy roads into the mountains. The men left the verdant forests
Of the coast for the pine trees and giant snow capped volcanoes of
The Sierra Madres. The rain turned to sleet as the icy winds chilled
The men to their bones. Several Indian porters died from the cold.
Despite the hardships, one thousand three hundred additional Indians
Joined their crusade, swelling their numbers to 3,000 men. Though
The Indians feared the Great Montezuma, they believed the Spaniards
Would deliver them from bondage. The men marched into the mountains,
Following narrow defiles, whose ledges dropped three hundred feet
Into the gorges below.

The men, weary and hungry, came upon a city with thirteen pyramids.
One hundred thousand skulls were piled in a small pyramid at the city
Gates, the macabre remains of human sacrificial victims. At first, the
Cacique refused to help Cortes. When Cortes asked whether he was
A subject of Montezuma, the cacique replied: "Who is not a vassal
of the great Montezuma?"

Cortes replied: "I am not."

The cacique told Cortes: "Montezuma commands thirty vassals, each of
Whom led one hundred thousand men. Montezuma's army could fight
Year round, and garrisoned all the cities of the empire. Every person –
Rich and poor alike – pays tribute to the Great Montezuma. The emperor
Lives in splendor at Technotitlan, a great city in the middle of a lake
In the center of a large verdant valley. Great causeways link this city
To the lake shores. Wood draw bridges span gaps in the causeway.
The bridges are raised to protect the city in times of danger."

When Cortes asked the cacique for gold, the cacique replied:

"I would not give you anything without the consent of of Montezuma.
But if Montezuma ordered it, I would give all my gold, possessions and
To you."

Marina described Cortes's great victories over Tabasco and the marks of favor
Montezuma showed toward Cortes. The cacique agreed to provide food
And shelter to Cortes and his starving Army. After Cortes and his army rested,
They resumed their March to Tenochtilan.

Who was Marina? Marina was born in a Aztec village in Guatemala
To a rich and powerful cacique. The cacique died when Marina was
A child, and her mother remarried and gave birth to a son. Marina's
Mother sold young Marina to slave traders who sold her the Tabascans
as a slave. The Tabascans after their defeat, gave the beautiful
Marina to Cortes. Marina was intelligent, generous and faithful to her
Adopted countrymen. Her good judgment extricated Cortes from many
Dangerous traps. She learned Spanish and became one Cortes's most
Trusted advisers. She shared all the dangers and privations with the men.
Cortes and his men owed their lives to her.

To be continued…

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