The Conquest – [Historical Fiction]

The meeting of Moctezuma II and Cortés: detail from a folding-screen mural painted by Roberto Cueva del Río (1976)

Foreboding and Omens

It has been said that the native peoples of this land witnessed a flaming tongue of fire, lasting a full year—beginning ten years prior to the date of our arrival on this new earth. This carried the effect of omens upon the people who witnessed it as a sight portending a radical change of events. Accompanying the comet were critically placed lightning strikes, meteors from the sky, and the boiling and flooding of the great lake. Some thought the gods brought the comets here to smite their enemies in the hills, but the majority thought themselves accursed, haunted by the wail of women, crying “we are about to go forever, O my children!”  Dreamers told their great king, “do not be troubled in your heart for what we are about to tell you…In our dreams, we mothers, saw a mighty river enter the doors of your royal palace… it ripped up the walls from their foundation…until nothing was left standing.” This flood took the temples and caused the people to flee for the surrounding hills. The king, greatly displeased, cast them in jail to starve to death, slowly, for relaying their vision.

The great king of the native peoples called for the jailing of all who prophesied any dark vision, for its reality come true. He ordered his jailers to tear down the houses and “kill their wives and children… all their possessions are to be destroyed.” This was mercilessly done, and the corpses dragged through the street, and from then on, there was no more prophecy. The king never smiled again, it is said, and he secluded himself to private chambers, and attempted to find out through his most trusted advisors, who it was that had come to their land and where they were from. He commissioned a painting from a witness, secretly, to depict the encounter with our peoples, and it presented as a galleon, bearing white men, bearded, with swords. Further into his frenzied inquiry, other symbols turned up fish-men, cyclops’s, and beings half man, half snake, but none appeared like the image with the galleon. He came to be told of an old man who could answer his questions, and he summoned the old man for his testimony and papers.
The old man spoke of mounted, armor clad people of a great wooden house on the water. These men were white and bearded, and brought with them horses and other variety of beasts unfamiliar to these peoples. According to the old man, these foreigners came to the shores to possess these lands, multiply their numbers, and claim the gold, silver and precious stones of the earth. He presented the king another image from his ancestors, one similar to the painting he commissioned before, depicting Spaniards in hats. This shocked the king, who wept and told the old man that these foreigners were just here, in their country, only a few days ago, from lands east. The king attempted to comfort himself, saying that he paid them tribute and asked them to leave—an order which they obeyed. The old man, wiser than the king, informed him, that it is possible that they came and went, but within two or three years, these strangers will return. “Their coming was meant only to find a convenient way to return…Do not believe them: they will not go that far.”


The Siege and fall of Tenochtitlan

On the third year, the prophecy of the old man was fulfilled. After unloading their wooden houses on the water, the Spaniards quickly sought alliances with natives dispossessed by the king, and the king was forced to form alliances where he could. He sent messengers to the lands around him to warn of the newcomers: “Montezuma, the Master of Mexico, sends us with orders to report to our brothers the strange people who have come and taken us by surprise.” The messengers would describe the beasts in armor, horse and human, and the treachery of another tribe which turned against them in battle. The chieftains of the neighboring peoples would thank the king for the information, but resisted offering their men to fight these intruders. The advisors of the chieftains asked: “What shall we do? This message is serious.” However, seeing it as a trick to steal lands and conquer them through treachery, the chieftains dismissed the messengers. “Let the strangers, kill the Mexicans because for many days they have not lived right.” Besides, their gods proclaimed that the city of the Mexicans would never be destroyed.

Soon, the peoples of the land were bleeding from the bowels, and suffering the hardship of smallpox, which ran rampant throughout the land, it killed many: princes, priests, and the ordinary person. The Great Rash, struck before the intruder, lasting sixty days, and when the population began their recuperation, the Spanish arrived. The slaughter was immense, but the Spaniards were, at first, repelled. The kings had captives taken and herded to Yacacolco, where one by one, they were sacrificed at the Mexican alter. Spaniards suffered first, with their heads winding up on poles, along with the heads of their horses. Still, after the sacrifices, the people of the land suffered greatly, and large numbers died of hunger, brought about by famine. A meteor would portend the fate of the city, in the darkest nights of the siege, and it is near this point, when the myth began that these peoples saw themselves and their king, as lesser “to the gods, the Spaniards.” The Spaniards then set to acquiring the spoils of their victory, stopping people by force, for their precious stone and metal. Robbing the people by force, of their possessions and beautiful women, and scarring any capable boy still left into errand servitude, branded at the cheek.

The leader of these men, Cortés, first marched through Texcoco, and provisioned and quartered his troops there. He constructed boats for the conquest of the lake, and made allies, and then made his move for Tenochtitlan. He positioned his men at the crucial causeways that led to the island city, and battered the city both by water and land. The people defended their water supply from their springs of Chapultepec, and bravely formed barricades to block the Spaniards entrance to the city. They defended from rooftops. But alas, the Mexicans would be driven out, escaping by night in the shallow parts of the great lake, in depths higher than the chest of most. The fighting had concluded, but for random skirmish or shout. The Spaniards had conquered the city, and when and with the remaining native people in the throes of smallpox and starvation, passed on, the conquest of the Mexicans was complete, and the king and peoples scattered far beyond the hills.

Burying the White Gods

This total devastation was, of course, seen as the act of gods by some of the Mexicans. But, these were not the actions of gods they were the doings of men, with their beasts, tactics and mode of warfare, new to these peoples, and many of them understood this well. The Cartas of Cortés may suggest a grand number of things, perhaps that his conquest of this land and its inhabitants were done for your majesty, on behalf of the faith, or for the noblest of reasons. Others will no doubt write the same in our time, of varying prose. The great fear is that in the future, those looking to describe the fall of the Tenochtitlan will have, solely, the Spaniards record to rely upon, for they completely burned or otherwise obliterated the language and symbols of the people they conquered. The record of these men have them poised to stand as heroes through eternity, however it is the nature of men to aggrandize their exploits.

Contemporaries will also be quick to describe the deeds as ‘godlike’, and then weakly associate that these people saw their conquerors as gods, from the awesomeness of the power they wrought, because that has become the popular rumor.  Though “these men are not gods,” this topic will never go away, having been let loose upon the imagination of mankind. The characters and narrative will continue to embellish themselves, as new ‘witnesses’ write into history, that which they heard third- or fourth-hand. As well, the words of informants and their interpreters can never well describe the events, in part from biases and preconceived notion. The conquest’s best description can only be told contaminated and partly ineffable, as translations which have gone through many iterations on its way to print. These interpreters of events did not have their interviews or conversations with the king, yet they pretend to know and make assumptions on his sorrow and anguish.

The literature and history of the future will suggest that Montezuma should have read into the signs and omens witnessed by his people, and prepare for the Spaniards by the insights they could have provided, rather than punish them cruelly. In his fear of what was to be, he himself may have imbued the power of god against him, but never forget that it was the conquest of men and the notions of empire, power, and wealth—of the Spaniards—which delivered destruction to these people. Cortés was not Quetzalcoatl, nor were his men divinely elements conducting the work of a higher deity. All of this perpetrated and employed by ruthless and disease carrying men, white-skinned and bearded—not a single god among them.


Leave a Reply