MEXICA



                This series of excerpts from MEXICA is 
            freeware, not shareware, and may be copied, 
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            MEXICA
                                                                   
            by Norman Spinrad

                                                                
            1.
                Why, dear reader, assuming that you may one day 
            exist, am I writing yet another account of Hernando 
            Cortes' heroic conquest of "New Spain" for King and 
            Cross? 
                 I ask it of myself as I embark on this wine-
            dark sea of narrative up here in the chilly mists, 
            for down below, the minions of the Church burn 
            every Mexican codex they get their hands on in the 
            name of the suppression of blasphemy, so it is 
            hardly likely that they would allow this account to 
            reach you or its author to survive should it come 
            to light.
                Still less should they finally learn who Alvaro 
            de Sevilla really is. 
                Perhaps they know already.  I am not about to 
            descend from my  refuge to find out, for if they 
            have learned that Alvaro de Sevilla was once Alvaro 
            Escribiente de Granada, the price for satisfying my 
            curiosity would surely be paid at the stake.  Worse 
            still, should they see who was hiding behind that 
            mask.
                Who am I? Where am I as I write this? And when?
                It is the Year of Their Lord 1531 by their 
            calendar, 5291 by that of my people, and matlactli 
            omei acatl as the Mexica not the span of a man's 
            life ago would have counted it in their own 
            language, Nahuatl.  
                I am writing this true story in a hut in a 
            small village of similar dwellings high enough on 
            the slopes of the great volcano Popocateptl, to 
            remain untouched by the rise and fall of the great 
            empire far below, small and poor enough to remain 
            beneath the interest of the conquistadores, now 
            that they have caused the Indians to be baptized 
            and erected a tiny stone church.
                Having left this singular mark of the conquest 
            in the care of  the local teopixqui, a sort of lay 
            priest of the rain god Tlaloc turned lay priest of  
            the tripartite God of the Church for the sake of 
            his people's tranquility, the friars and their 
            armed escort left, hopefully never to return   In 
            the service of which this village shall herein 
            remain nameless, and likewise this priest of two 
            gods who has succored me, to shield it and him from 
            their wrath. 
                I was born Avram ibn Ezra, though even that is 
            not quite the full truth of it, since "ibn Ezra" is 
            an Arabization of the Hebrew "ben Ezra," for I come 
            from a Jewish family distinguished by a long line 
            of scholars and poets and a shorter line of less 
            famed advisers to the sultans of Granada, of which 
            I was the last.
                I was baptized Alvaro Escribiente de Granada 
            shortly after the surrender of my patron Muhammad 
            Abu 'Abd Allah (known as Boabdil to the victors who 
            wrote the history) made him the last of these 
            Islamic rulers of Spain in the Year of Their Lord 
            1492 and before the Inquisition was to reach its 
            full baleful flowering. I had seen the handwriting 
            inscribing itself on the fallen walls soon enough 
            to become one of the earlier conversos, converting 
            at a time when openly forswearing Judaism in favor 
            of Christianity was enough to save me from my minor 
            notoriety as a member of the last Islamic court.
                Later on, when the times changed, and the 
            Inquisition began its fanatically diligent rooting 
            out of  maranos--conversos secretly still observing 
            the rites of the sons of Abraham--being known as a 
            convert who had been baptized in a manner which in 
            hindsight appeared just as opportunistic as it 
            actually was lost its protective magic.
                And so, like second and third sons of noble 
            families, backers of the wrong sides in the 
            struggles afflicting the former petty 
            principalities attempting to become a nation called 
            Spain, starry-eyed dreamers and bullion-eyed 
            schemers, I set off in 1518 for those lands 
            discovered by Columbus in 1492 and then beginning 
            to be styled "the New World" by freebooters unaware 
            of how true that would prove to be.
                Thus  I became Alvaro de Sevilla somewhere in 
            the ocean between Spain and the isle of Cuba, my 
            baggage consisting of  my skills as a scribe and 
            secretary, and laudatory letters of recommendation 
            to its  governor, Diego Velazquez, forged by 
            myself, which enabled me to secure service in his 
            employ.
                Thus, on a tropical isle thousands of leagues 
            across an ocean from the memory of Europe, then but 
            thinly settled by Spaniards of the sort mainly 
            concerned with securing plantations and the Carib 
            slaves to wrest wealth from them, as the most 
            learned man in the employ of Velazquez, I soon 
            enough also became the most valued whisperer in his 
            ear.
                Thus did Avram ibn Ezra thoroughly disappear.
                But not from the heart of he who now sets pen 
            to Mexica paper. For however great a weight of 
            paper may be have been burned in the bonfires in 
            Mexico, however great a weight of flesh may have 
            been burned at the stake in Europe, memory cannot 
            be burned from the hearts of those who survive, 
            even if they may wish it so.  
                And now I find it is Avram ibn Ezra who is 
            compelled to relate the true story of Hernando 
            Cortes' conquest of the Empire of the Mexica and 
            the part Alvaro de Sevilla played therein.  
                Why, dear reader, you may well ask, am I 
            compelled to inflict upon the unknown future one 
            more version of a great tale of which there are 
            sure to be a surfeit? 
                Because what has already been written and what 
            is likely to be written is at best half the truth 
            and at worse farragoes of self-serving lies.
                Why should swallow this version as the truth 
            when its author has spent the bulk of his life 
            lying about his own identity?
                The answer is that I secretly transcribed 
            Montezuma's own account of many of these events, 
            and, having saved the manuscript from destruction, 
            I have it with me now, and, moreover, I presume to 
            believe that I was the closest intimate among us 
            that he had.  For I fancy that only one born into a 
            Jewish family bred for generations to survive  in a 
            mighty civilization not their own, only to see it 
            fall , could hope to even begin to achieve such 
            communion with a soul as alien to the European mind 
            as his hideous gods were to the Christian clerics 
            who sought and still seek to supplant them here 
            with the singular one on the Cross.  
                The fathers of the Spaniards who arrived on the 
            jungled coast of what they first believed to be a 
            mere island inhabited by savages little different 
            from the Caribs of Cuba and the Antilles had lived 
            the heroic history of the Reconquest of Spain from 
            the Muslims, leaving them with the firm belief that 
            they had triumphed in the service of the one true 
            God.  
                Their sons, lacking the opportunity to be the 
            heroes of such a noble cause, inverted this sense 
            of moral certainty into the conveniently sincere 
            belief that they too served God as they conquered 
            and stole, as long as they did so marching behind 
            the True Cross; that as long as they converted the 
            Indians they enslaved to the True Faith, God served 
            their cause as much as they served His.
                Montezuma, Emperor of all he surveyed, 
            nevertheless enjoyed no such hubric moral fantasy.  
            He not only sincerely believed he was the servant 
            of his gods, but agonized endlessly and sacrificed 
            profusely, sparing not his own blood either, in a 
            life-long attempt to discern what they wanted him 
            to do.
                To a one-time Jewish scholar  there was 
            something familiar about this priest-king's 
            obsessive quest for knowledge of the will of his 
            gods. For while the Christian faith expediently 
            adopted by Alvaro Escribiente de Granada is founded 
            on the certainty that the nature of God is set out 
            in the Bible and His will clearly enunciated in the 
            words of Jesus Christ,  the sophisticated 
            cosmopolitan Judaism of Avram ibn Ezra consisted of 
            a philosophic and moral argument between God and 
            Man that neither wished to see concluded.   
                And while I found Montezuma's metaphysical 
            system horrifyingly repugnant in many of its 
            aspects, its complexity and sophistication appealed 
            to my mind, and therefore, I have reason to 
            believe, did my mind appeal to his. 
                As for my insight into the mind, if not the 
            heart of the great Cortes, all I can claim is that 
            I was with him from the beginning, all too often 
            his Iago, to my present sorrow, but not that I even 
            now can fully comprehend a man that combined such 
            virtue and evil, that I can to both love and hate, 
            often at the same time.
                Hernando Cortes was not an uneducated man.  He 
            was reasonably versed in the classics, he could 
            write a decent enough poem, he a great orator, and 
            he was a more than competent general if not the 
            Caesar he thought himself to be.  He was also a 
            masterful plotter, liar, and double and triple 
            betrayer, who could charm the carrion birds out of 
            the trees, blessed with the sincere Christian 
            belief that whatever he did served God and hence 
            absolved him from any necessary sin committed in 
            the process thereof. 
                For this master sophist was the product of a 
            civilization able to convince itself not only to  
            believe that it was anointed of God to rule over 
            lesser breeds, but that he and the Church were 
            doing these people a special favor by conquering 
            them and converting them to the True Religion.  For 
            if they didn't, would not their souls burn in hell 
            forever?
                But when you reach a such a exalted state of 
            sophism that you can apply it so perfectly to 
            yourself, how to comprehend the mind of a ruler who 
            was product of a civilization whose capital made 
            anything in Europe seem like a backwater provincial 
            seat, whose philosophical theology was up there 
            with the Egyptians in its complexity and its 
            concept of time, and whose cuisine put that of 
            Spain to shame?
                Still less when the said cuisine included the 
            meat of its prisoners of war, and the civilization 
            believed we were insane because we sought to kill 
            as many of our enemies in battle as we could 
            instead of capturing them, sacrificing them to our 
            gods, and savoring them in our banquets as a 
            civilized people should. 
                And therein lies the tale.

   After many machinations on the isle of Cuba, Cortes and 
    his expedition, Along with Alvaro set sail for the unknown 
            shore of fabled gold-rich Mexico.
                
                We departed on the nineteenth of February 1519, 
            under fleecy skies, with what I was told was a good 
            following wind. Five hundred and fifty three 
            soldiers, including thirty-two crossbowmen and 
            thirteen arquebusiers.  Melchior, our interpreter, 
            Julian having expired, perhaps of homesickness. Two 
            hundred Carib slaves. Sixteen horses and a pack of 
            war dogs. Two priests. Ten heavy cannon and four 
            lighter ones. And a crew of some hundred and ten 
            sailors to convey it all.
                As I stood on the forecastle of the flagship 
            gazing forward across the blue tropical sea at the 
            future of our adventure, it finally came to me how 
            ridiculously tiny an armada this was to presume to 
            confront  the forces of an unknown empire whose 
            outlying province had already demonstrated the 
            ability to marshal forty times our forces.
                On the other hand, I told myself sardonically 
            as I looked back and watched the Cuban shore and 
            the unseemly manner of our departure disappear 
            behind the curve of the Earth, were we not in truth  
            the largest fleet of pirates ever to set sail?

                The fleet is scattered by a storm.
                                                                   
                The storm finally broke, and at length we found 
            ourselves alone on a choppy but tolerable sea, 
            though the lightening of the skies did little to 
            lighten Cortes' humor until a few sea birds 
            appeared, a sign, so the sailors told us, that we 
            were nearing land.
                Then the lookout high up on the mainmast 
            shouted out its distant sighting, everyone came up 
            on deck, and soon the horizon became tinged with a 
            misty line of greenish brown. A while later, this 
            became a distant island, then a narrow rocky coast 
            crowned with lush green foliage above a narrow 
            sandy strand.
                Even Cortes' mien brightened when the subtle 
            but unmistakeable odors of land--distant 
            vegetation,  the sun's heat upon sand, the tang of 
            seaweed rotting and drying on a beach--reached our 
            nostrils on the breeze, a perfume otherwise too 
            faint to discern rendered blissfully tangible in 
            contrast to the previously all too prevalent stormy 
            sea stench of salt, tar, dung, urine, and vomit.
                We sailed anxiously around the coast of the 
            island, until, rounding a headland guarding a 
            decent enough natural harbor, we spied masts and 
            spars, then a ship, then another and another and 
            another, and a cheer of relief went up, and this 
            was greatly enhanced as we approached anchorage, 
            for ten were counted.  The entire fleet had 
            survived.
                Our joy was somewhat tempered when we saw in 
            what condition. Spars were splintered, cracked, and 
            missing, rigging hung in tatters, some masts had 
            even been reduced to jagged stumps.
                "Fear not," the captain of our flagship 
            reassured Cortes, "I've seen such tempests in these 
            seas do much worse. This is nothing that ship's 
            carpenters can't set straight, what with all that 
            timber ashore."
                This mollified Cortes, and as we dropped 
            anchor, close enough to the beach now to see them, 
            our spirits were further raised by the sight of 
            several score men awaiting us on the beach, who, by 
            the gleam off their armor, and by the standards 
            planted in the sand, were easily enough recognized 
            as our comrades waving to us in welcome. Indeed, I 
            could make out not only the standard of Pedro 
            Alvarado, but the golden hair and beard of the 
            bareheaded figure standing beside it.
                I say our spirits were raised by this sight, 
            but this was not true of Cortes. "They landed 
            against my orders," he grumbled.
                "How can you charge them with disobedience to 
            orders that were never given?" 
                "I would have given them were I there!"
                "How were they to know that?"
                To this Cortes made no direct reply.  Instead 
            he issued the highly unpopular order that everyone 
            was to remain aboard for the moment, myself 
            included, while he went ashore in a boat to discern 
            the situation.
                As one might well imagine, the mood aboard the 
            flagship grew more and more sour, then iresome, as 
            the "moment" stretched on towards an hour, while we 
            watched Cortes being rowed ashore, being greeted by 
            the party there, then engaging in some kind of long 
            gesticulating conversation with Alvarado before 
            being rowed back to the ship .
                Our petty ire, however, was nothing to what was 
            visible on the face of Cortes when he climbed back 
            aboard.  His normal sallow skin was reddened with 
            rage to, and his scowl was darker than the departed 
            storm clouds, to the point where no one dare 
            approach or speak to him, myself included.   
                But as he stormed into his cabin, he wordlessly 
            beckoned me to follow, and once inside slammed the 
            door behind us and poured out his fury.
                "That arrogant half-wit Alvarado! I would chop 
            off that golden head of his if I did not know that  
            it was as empty of maliciousness as it is of wisdom 
            or even cunning!"
                "What did he do?" I inquired mildly as Cortes 
            paced the little cabin seeming fit to attack the 
            furnishings with his sword at any moment.
                "What did he do! Not content with landing his 
            troops without orders, he whiled away the time 
            awaiting my ire not merely by barging into the town 
            armed to the teeth like a pirate raider but 
            behaving like one too, looting the temple of its 
            few worthless trinkets and so terrifying the 
            natives that they have disappeared into the jungle. 
            And do you know what he told me?"
                "I surmise that you are about to tell me," I 
            all but whispered.
                "'You are not pleased, my Captain?' he said 
            with an air of wounded innocence. 'True, we found 
            no great treasure, but I assure you on my honor we 
            secured all there was to be had.' 'You call 
            unprovoked looting and desecration honorable?' I 
            roared at him.  "And then...and then...."
                "And then?"
                "And then the man had the effrontery to display 
            righteous outrage rather than contrition!" Cortes 
            shouted, slamming his fist down on the tabletop, no 
            doubt as it were the head of Pedro Alvarado. "'You 
            were not there to see it,' he told me. 'A hideous 
            idol caked with the blood of I dare not imagine who 
            or what and these loathsome creatures done up in 
            vile parody of priests of the Cross conducting some 
            sort of evil ceremony while the benighted savages 
            paid it obesiance!  An outrage to the honor of 
            Christ himself! What true Christian's honor would 
            not demand that he put an end to it and teach them 
            a lesson?'"
                  Cortes shook his head and took a deep breath. 
            He sighed and sank down into a chair, and when he 
            spoke again, his rage had been tempered, though 
            with nothing better than a certain despair.
                "'A fine lesson you have taught these heathens 
            with whom we would trade and win to the True 
            Faith,' I told him. 'To fear and hate us before our 
            mission is even begun'.  To which he replied: 'I 
            thought we were here to conquer these lands for the 
            King and the Cross.'"
                "Well he did have a point," I ventured 
            cautiously, "didn't he?"
                "One way or another," Cortes said with a sigh, 
            "but surely not like this! Save for the tales 
            brought back by Hernandez and Grijalva, we know 
            nothing of this savage empire we confront, not even 
            if that is truly what it is, and the first Indians 
            we encounter who might supply useful intelligence 
            are frightened off into the jungle to spread tales 
            of our forthright thievery."
                His anger now spent, Cortes motioned for me to 
            be seated beside him.  "What am I to do now, 
            Alvaro?" he asked plaintively.
                "Well, I can tell you what you are not going to 
            do," I told him. "In the dispatches to be sent back 
            to the King, this fiasco must never have happened."
                "To be sure, but how am I to retrieve the 
            situation so as to make it disappear?"
                "Are there any of the natives left in the 
            vicinity?"
                "I believe Alvarado mentioned something about 
            taking captives, but I was paying little heed at 
            the time...."
                "And unless I am mistaken, our Melchior speaks 
            the local tongue."
                "So?"
                "So we had best redress the natives' grievance 
            against us with largesse and the promise of more," 
            I told him.
                "We must redress their grievance against us,? 
            said Cortes, getting my drift. "Not quite, Alvaro. 
            I have a better idea.  And one that I shall find 
            both just and amusing."
                                                                                
            #
                And so our first congress with the subjects, 
            however few, of the great Montezuma, took the form 
            of a most bizarre formal ceremony.

                Cortes unloaded his grateful forces from the 
            ships--though leaving the poor horses and dogs 
            behind for fear of giving further fright--lined 
            them up behind his standard on the beach, sweating 
            in their full gleaming metal armor under the 
            tropical sun in the steaming humidity, and took his 
            place before them, a fine martial display meant to 
            impress rather than intimidate.
                To his left stood Pedro de Alvarado, his 
            handsome face an impassive mask, only his darting 
            eyes betraying his discomfort. To his right was 
            poor Melchior, a pathetic spectacle dressed as a 
            parody of a Spanish grandee in a threadbare blue 
            velvet tunic and green pantaloons a size or two too 
            large, but with his hair long and unkempt in the 
            Indian fashion, and the downcast, furtive and 
            uncomprehending eyes of a forest creature plunked 
            down at mass in a cathedral.  Before them was a 
            cloth sack and a small wooden chest.
                Dragged forth by four soldiers to confront this 
            august company were two aged and cowering Indians, 
            wearing white loincloths and cloaklike affairs, 
            beardless but sporting long graying black manes, 
            and wearing copper earrings  embedded with blue 
            stones, and copper tablets likewise embellished 
            depending from their lower lips, their modest 
            weight serving to draw them down to display 
            purpling lower gums and unsmiling yellowish teeth.
                "Tell them that we are vassals of the great 
            King across the sea and followers of the True Faith 
            come to this shore in peace and friendship to 
            convey upon them the gifts and advantages lavished 
            upon those whom he would in his gracious 
            magnanimity befriend and liberate them from their 
            darkness," Cortes declared, turning to Melchior.
                The poor man, whose Spanish both Cortes and I 
            knew to be minimal , must have comprehended little 
            more of this than we did of whatever he then 
            proceeded to babble to the captives in their own 
            language, and to judge from their expressions, it 
            was insufficient to convey to them the honor being 
            bestowed upon them and their people.
                "Tell them that this man, overwhelmed by their 
            beauty, sought only to examine their treasures,  
            not to steal them," said Cortes, pointing to the 
            hapless Alvarado, "and when their people, 
            misreading his intent, fled, rather than leave them 
            unguarded prey to thieves, he thought it prudent to 
            take them into his care for safekeeping against 
            their return."
                Had this been delivered by a great orator in 
            their own tongue, it no doubt would have been 
            difficult enough to swallow, and many of those 
            comprehending it in Spanish were hard put to 
            repress their sniggers, so there was no surprise 
            when Melchior's rude translation was met with utter 
            incomprehension by the two captives. 
                These ridiculous niceties being concluded to 
            the expected no avail, Cortes nodded to Alvarado, 
            who, grimacing, picked up the sack and gently 
            poured its contents out upon the sand--copper 
            implements of unknown use, several blades of a 
            shiny black substance, handfuls of jewelry, some of 
            it gold but most of it copper set with stones that 
            were neither diamonds, rubies nor sapphires, though 
            there were some with pearls.
                The captives were then shoved forward to 
            observe with incomprehension becoming amazement as 
            one by one, displaying each item first with the 
            utmost politesse, Alvarado replaced them in the 
            sack.
                "Tell them that we now return their safeguarded 
            treasures to them, and they will find that nothing 
            is missing," Cortes said, giving Alvarado a 
            sidelong glance that clearly said there had better 
            not be.  
                Melchior's translation may or may not have been 
            understood, but it needed not be, as Cortes himself 
            handed the sack to one of them.
                He then opened the little chest, and one by one 
            displayed its contents: a glass mirror in an iron 
            frame, a steel knife with a leather-wrapped handle, 
            a handful of rosaries, several base metal crosses 
            on chains, a pair of scissors, a cheap miniature 
            portrait of the Virgin and Child, a Bible, and 
            heaping handfuls of colored glass beads.
                Closing the chest, he handed it over to the 
            other Indian. "These are precious gifts from His 
            Majesty King Charles to your people as token of his 
            friendship," he proclaimed. "Take them back to your 
            people, and tell them to return to their homes 
            without fear. Tell them also that there is much for 
            them to have, in return for what presents they may 
            wish to give to us as tokens of theirs."
                This time Melchior's translation seemed better 
            understood, greatly aided no doubt by the 
            obviousness of the gestures which needed none, and 
            the Indians' eyes lit up with no little relief and 
            pleasure, albeit of a somewhat tentative and 
            disbelieving species.
                When their guards released them and stepped 
            aside, they stood there numbly for a moment, then, 
            at a farewell wave from Cortes, began slowly 
            backing away towards the forest fringing the beach 
            with their shoulders forward, their backs bent, and 
            their heads lowered, like obsequious courtiers 
            departing the royal presence. Only when they neared 
            the treeline did they deem it meet and prudent to 
            turn their backs and disappear therein at a dead 
            run.
                                                        
                Cortes sets out to explore the island of Cozumel.
                                                             
                Cozumel proved to be an island of no great 
            size, and no great fertility of soil, where a 
            meager population of Indians, clustered mainly in 
            scattered villages, eked out a modest living from 
            the surrounding fields of what they called "maize" 
            and the beans from which they made their brown 
            mash.  

                  On the way back to their base....

                We were on our way back to our main 
            encampment,when, of a late afternoon, we 
            encountered a village larger than most, and so too 
            its pyramidal temple, though it was hardly a grand 
            edifice.
                 What must have been most of the village was 
            gathered silently around the foot of the temple 
            gazing up at the stone hut which crowned its 
            flattened summit, and at a respectful or perhaps 
            fearful distance, though no papas were in evidence 
            to enforce it.
                Though nothing seemed to be happening, it was 
            an eerie unsettling sight, with the blue of the sky 
            deepening, and the shadows of the surrounding trees 
            lengthening, and the ominous shadow of the temple 
            itself enfolding that silent congregation of what 
            to my eyes now seemed savages, with their half-
            naked bodies, long black hair, lips, ears, and 
            noses pierced with metal embellishments.
                Cortes marched his troops into the village and 
            brought them to a halt a discreet distance behind 
            this somber gathering, whether out of curiosity, 
            unease, or the tentative aspect of respect one 
            tends to assume as a witness to the ceremonies of a 
            faith other than one's own, I could not tell, and 
            perhaps he could not either.  There was such a 
            pregnancy in the heavy tropical air that even 
            Fathers Diaz and Olmedo fell silent, nor did our 
            advent serve to distract the Iindians from the 
            object of their worshipful attention save but 
            passingly.
                How long we all stood there so still and 
            silent, I cannot tell you, dear reader, for time 
            itself seemed to have stopped until--
                A hideous scream rang out from the summit of 
            the temple, a sharp cry of sudden pain that rose 
            into an even worse ululating, blubbering, howl of 
            terrible agony, that had Cortes himself and many of 
            our company drawing their swords, and rushing 
            forward.
                Before the Indian congregation could do more 
            than turn in reaction to the commotion behind it, 
            they were through their midst, and Cortes had 
            mounted the lower steps of the temple with a cordon 
            of steel swords and armor behind him as the 
            horrible screaming guttered into a somehow even 
            worse silence. 
                Then, as all seemed to freeze into mutual 
            uncertainty, something large came tumbling and 
            bouncing down from the summit of the temple, 
            obscured by shadow and motion, until it all but 
            collided with Cortes as it came to its final rest 
            close by his feet.
                 Only then did he and we and I realize that 
            what we had seen thrown down from on high like so 
            much refuse was the corpse of a man, his chest a 
            gory gaping hole, the path his body had taken down 
            the stone steps drawn in gouts and rivulets of 
            fresh and still dripping blood like a red stream 
            burbling across the rocks of a rapids.
                Cortes shouted in wordless outrage and dashed 
            up the steps two at a time, sword in hand, several 
            men behind him, while the others menaced the 
            outraged Indians with their own swords. Someone in 
            our party behind them gave the order, and four of 
            our arquebusiers fired off  their weapons,  the 
            unprecedented loudness of the reports and the alien 
            tang of gunpowder dispersing the crowd in terror as 
            Cortes gained the summit.
                "The hut atop the temple was redolent with a 
            sweet incense blasphemously reminiscent of that in 
            a cathedral, filling the enclosed space with dense 
            smoke, which, nevertheless, could not draw a 
            merciful veil over the Satanic ritual my poor eyes 
            were forced to behold, and I must cross myself 
            immediately against it, " he told me later. 
                "Four black-robes papas stood before a idol 
            half as tall as a man which seemed to be carved of 
            stone, though it was hard to be sure, for it was 
            caked with some brownish stuff that might have been 
            dried mud or just as well shit, which softened its 
            monstrous features; great bulging eyes over a 
            leering mouth, and the top of the head a kind of 
            bowl as if its skull had been opened.
                Before this demon was a rude altar of stone 
            with a depression in it filled with blood.  Blood 
            ran down onto the floor from a channel cut in the 
            stone and likewise dripped off the edges of the 
            altar.  One of the papas held a dagger of black 
            stone coated with more blood.  Another was in the 
            act of anointing the head of the idol with blood 
            from a clay bowl, and I realized to my horror that 
            the brownish substance caking the idol, the walls, 
            the floor, was neither mud nor feces, but a thick 
            accumulation of old dried blood, indicating that 
            herein this obscene black mass had been conducted 
            many, many times.
                Try as you may, Alvaro, you will never be able 
            to imagine the force of my outrage.  I was upon the 
            idol at once, and such was my fury that God granted 
            me the power to budge it even before the soldiers 
            mounting behind me rushed to aid, and while two of 
            them held off the shouting papas with their swords-
            -and it must have taken great restraint not to 
            simply run them through--the rest of us rolled the 
            Satanic thing out the entranceway and threw it down 
            the stairs."
                And indeed, a statue of stone came crashing and 
            smashing down the temple facade to crack in two 
            smaller pieces, a number of shards, and one large 
            one, to land at our feet.
                I was not entirely surprised, having heard 
            Bernal Diaz's tale of a similar ritual, but the 
            true horror of it was that now I was confronted 
            with sudden unavoidable realization that his tale 
            was true and I was living in it, that the souls who 
            inhabited this New World it were far more foreign 
            to my own than I could have ever believed or 
            imagined, that it might truly be that Satan or 
            something even worse possessed them.
                The smashing of their cherished idol caused 
            many of the Indians to screw up their courage to 
            return, some armed with stone-tipped lances and 
            arrows, all clearly outraged, but none daring to be 
            the first to launch an attack. 
                Seizing the moment, Cortes ordered all present 
            to draw swords, save the priests, and the 
            arquebusiers whose fusillade had frightened them 
            off in the first place; these he had take aim at 
            the Indians at point blank range as a precaution.  
            He then had a sack of our usual trade goods brought 
            forth, and its contents spread upon the ground 
            before them like the disgorged plenty of a 
            cornucopia, and, through Melchior, managed to 
            convey that these presents were theirs for the 
            taking.
                There was a great confusion among the Indians. 
            Their temple had been desecrated and their god 
            destroyed by mysterious strangers possessed of 
            magical weapons with which they were now menaced.  
            But these invaders were now offering them wondrous 
            and perhaps equally magical gifts.  I cannot 
            imagine what they must have made of this 
            contradiction, and it would seem that they didn't 
            either, as they milled about, some helping 
            themselves, some standing back, some still 
            brandishing their weapons in frustrated outrage.
                Father Olmedo took it upon himself to plant his 
            cross in the soil close by the fallen idol, a 
            mysterious gesture, which if nothing else served to 
            draw the Indians' attention.
                Rather than make another futile attempt to 
            preach a sermon against Satanic and blasphemous 
            idolatry, he summoned Father Diaz, who annointed 
            the largest piece of the idol with holy water, then 
            spread a sacramental cloth across it, converting it 
            to a communion table.
                The wine and wafers were then produced, the 
            appropriate prayers were said, and all present were 
            offered communion.
                "The body and the blood of Christ...."
                One by one, led by Cortes, all knelt and  
            partook of the transubstantiated wine and wafer.
                "The body and the blood of Christ...."
                Bizarre as it might be to me as an unbeliever, 
            I could understand why it comforted the Faithful 
            after such grim and blasphemous events.
                "The body  and the blood of Christ...."
                I not only thought it prudent to eat  and drink 
            of it myself, as I always did under such 
            circumstances, but though I could not quite bring 
            myself to believe that I was taking the godhead 
            into my flesh as I did so, even I drew a measure of 
            comfort from the familiar ritual.
                I was among the last to do so, and, wonder of 
            wonders, when I arose, I saw that a score and more 
            Indians were lining up behind me to do likewise, as 
            Melchior moved among them.
                "What did you say to them?" I asked him, 
            drawing him aside, as, one by one, formerly 
            benighted savages knelt before the blissfully 
            beaming Father Olmedo to partake of the Christian 
            sacrament.
                "Ask what is ceremony," Melchior replied in his 
            broken Spanish. "Tell them is Christian magic. Tell 
            them Christian magic turn bread and wine into meat 
            and blood of their god."
                "And?" I demanded.
                "Tlaloc must be fed blood and meat of men so 
            rain comes," said Melchior. "But  Jesus Christ God 
            of Heavens give Christians his blood to drink and 
            meat to eat."
                He shrugged. "Is strange, men eat god instead 
            of god eat men," he said without a trace of humor, 
            "they not understand, I think, but they like it." 

        After battles, adventures, and intrigues, and having 
            accumulated an army of Indian allies, Cortes and his forces 
            are at last climbing the great mountains, beyond which lies 
            the Valley of Mexico and its capital Tenochtitlan....
            
                As we moved up through the densely wooded 
            foothills, what had been a coolly refreshing 
            climate began to turn cold. Gray mists hid the sun 
            as often as not.  Biting winds blew down from the 
            canyons still high above us, canyons we must 
            approach and traverse, rather than avoid.
                As we began to climb through rugged ascending 
            defiles, it grew colder still, and drizzle from 
            what began to seem like a permanent gray deck of 
            clouds began to slowly drench us, and fog rolled 
            down through the passes.  Higher still, and the 
            forests above them became pine, and then began to 
            thin out, and the rains and the fogs became united 
            in a single element, for now we had ascended into a 
            cloud layer.  The mighty snowcapped major peaks 
            which previously had been intermittently visible 
            were now permanently hidden from view as we crawled 
            ever upward, with the air becoming ever colder and 
            the defiles ever steeper and rockier, and our world 
            became an ominously gray-roofed tunnel clogged with 
            dank and swirling mist.
                If the Hell of the Christians was a one of heat 
            and fire, this was the cold, dark Hades of the 
            pagan Greeks, and I at least, who was no Christian, 
            began to take it as  punishment for the terrible 
            sin with which this grim journey had so blithely 
            began.
                And then we reached the first evidence of the 
            hand of man that we had encountered in what seemed 
            like an eternity.  But there was nothing comforting 
            about it, only further diabolic torment.
                The road--or rather rocky path--that we had 
            been so laboriously following came to a fork. The 
            righthand path was clear, but the lefthand path had 
            been blocked with a barricade of large rocks and 
            the trunks of trees whose greenness gave evidence 
            that the barrier had been erected but recently to 
            impede us.
                Or to channel us.
                Such was the mood that Cortes declared that we 
            must not proceed as its builders had so obviously 
            wished us, but take the road they wished not to be 
            taken.  And so, like an army of Sisyphuses, albeit 
            with less futile result, we were constrained to 
            roll aside the stones and logs as a further 
            chastisement.
                Onward we climbed through the clouds, passing 
            beyond the treeline, and the very soil became 
            something darkly otherworldly; a pitch-black sandy 
            loam laid down as lava and bolides by the great 
            volcano Popocatepetl and ground down by the ages.
                And then, miraculously, we were above the 
            clouds and looking down on them, on a grimy grayish-
            white false landscape of slowly but visibly moving 
            ethereal humped hills and misty valleys, as if we 
            had ascended not merely to the sky but beyond it to 
            gaze down in discomforted wonder upon a grim parody 
            of an angel-less and Godless Heaven.
                But there were deities of a sort to be seen 
            rising even above that.  On our left hand rose the 
            mighty snowcapped peak of Ixtaccihuatl, the "white 
            lady."  And even this mountain, dwarfing anything 
            in Europe, was overshadowed by that which rose on 
            the right: Popocatepetl, "the mountain that 
            smokes," a black peak that rose even higher, its 
            summit freed of any snowcap by the fire of its 
            volcanic eruptions, from which rose the plume of 
            grayish-black smoke which gave it its name.
                Truly we had left the world we had known behind 
            us.
                Here we paused, exhausted and dumbfounded, to 
            rest and wonder.  The Tlascalans, who had a dread 
            of Popocatepetl, both superstitious and quite 
            practical, declared that it was a habitat of 
            demons, and that no man had ever ascended it and 
            returned alive. One of the Spanish soldiers, a 
            mountaineer from the Pyrenees, piqued by the 
            implied dare, declared his intention to climb to 
            the summit of the volcano and nine of his comrades 
            accepted the challenge, as well as a few fearful 
            Tlascalans who were determined to prove that they 
            were no lesser breed than Spaniards.
                Climb the mountain they did, though not quite 
            to the peak, and return they did also, with a 
            daunting tale.
                The ascent began easily enough along a steep 
            but gentle slope of loam as black as the heart of 
            Satan.  But then the loam became deep dry black 
            sand, and the climb a lead-footed slog through it. 
            And further on, their breathing became labored, and 
            they entered a strange but not entirely unpleasant 
            dreamlike state in which their feet seemed 
            disconnected from their bodies and they seemed to 
            be floating upward with exaggerated slowness, as if 
            they were walking through an ocean of viscous air.
                Then, as they approached the summit, the sand 
            gave way to rock, and the rim of the crater at the 
            summit became visible, billowing black smoke, 
            shooting out bright sparks and hot cinders, and 
            exuding a choking satanic stench of burning 
            brimstone.  All but overcome by the thinness of the 
            air, the heat of the volcano, the showers of 
            cinders, and perhaps fearing that they might 
            encounter a portal into Hell itself if they peered 
            over the crater rim, they turned back and returned 
            to tell the tale without ever quite encountering 
            Satan.
                The next day we continued our passage through 
            this unearthly infernal landscape, through a 
            winding pass between the great mountains, which 
            seemed like two forbidding sentinels guarding it. 
            But that afternoon we rounded a bend and beheld a 
            sight that took the breath away and transformed 
            bleakness into soul-soaring wondrous delight in the 
            blink of an eye.
                As if we had been granted a sign from God, the 
            curtain of cloud far below had been drawn aside, 
            and we gazed upon Anahuac, the Valley of Mexico 
            entire, glittering like an immense sapphire set in 
            an even grander emerald .
                The great valley was verdant with rich 
            croplands and flourishing forests. In the center of 
            it was an enormous lake.  On its shores and inland 
            rose more cities than the eye could count, and in 
            the greater ones soared pyramids like unto those in 
            ruins in Egypt, but gleaming white and entirely 
            intact. A profusion of small boats hovered on the 
            edge of visibility on the lake. Gardens floated 
            magically on the waters.  
                There was nothing remotely like this 
            constellation of cities anywhere in Europe. And if 
            these cities were stars in a celestial 
            constellation, great Tenochtitlan was a mighty sun, 
            and I doubted that there was anything like it 
            anywhere on Earth, or that Marco Polo could have 
            felt anything like the wonder I did then when he 
            first set eyes on the cities of Cathay
                Tenochtitlan was tremendous. Everything about 
            it declared its grandeur. Its extent was immense.   
            The avenues were so broad as to be dimly visible 
            even at this distance as an enormous grid centered 
            on a plaza larger than any I had ever seen or 
            imagined. The city was huge enough, or so it 
            seemed, that it might hold the entire populace of 
            Castile.  
                But size was somehow the least of it. 
            Tenochtitlan indeed sat in the lake connected to 
            the shores only by four long straight causeways, 
            like a great spider in the center of its web. The 
            city shimmered in the haze the bright sun burned 
            off the waters, so that  it seemed to be not so 
            much floating in the middle of the lake as hovering 
            in the air above it as if by magic.
                Who could have known? What extravagant tale 
            could have prepared the soul for the reality? What 
            eater of the lotus could have even imagined it?
                I was enthralled, enchanted, overwhelmed with 
            wonder. It was like falling in love. In some 
            manner, I suppose I did fall in love.  And I felt 
            the hand of Marina, who stood beside me, covertly 
            steal into my own for a moment, as if to affirm 
            that this sight, this vision, was indeed all we had 
            schemed and conspired to attain, that this was a 
            moment shared between us as between none of those 
            in our company of would-be conquerors.
                Conquer this?
                Yet when I glanced sideways at Cortes, what I 
            saw on his lips was a feral grin, what I saw in his 
            eyes was greedy determination.  Mad determination.  
            For my perception of who we were and what we were 
            and where we were and what we had presumed to 
            conquer had turned upside down.
                We were not the army of a superior civilization 
            across the sea confronting an empire of rude and 
            uncouth barbarians. We were a troop of Greek 
            adventurers washed up on its mythical shore 
            presuming to storm Atlantis.

                To order MEXICA directly from Little Brown UK 
            the URL is:

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            1=keyword&kyt=MEXICA&cid=&tag=&x=10&y=8             

                To order MEXICA from Amazon UK the URL is:
                 
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            4/qid=1128103817/sr=2-1/ref=sr_2_11_1/026-9627817-
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       Norman Spinrad's web site URL is:
            
            http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/normanspinrad


                This series of excerpts from MEXICA is 
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