Adventures and Conquests of Pizarro - George Towle

The Inca's Court and Camp

At the point where Pizarro had arrived, several lofty spurs of the Cordilleras, branching out at right angles from the principal range, stretched down directly towards the seacoast. It was at the foot of one of these that Pizarro had halted.

Between this and another spur, farther south, lay a most picturesque and verdant valley of oval shape. On that side the mountains did not, as on the side where Pizarro was, frown upon the lands below in grim, rugged, abrupt, and forbidding grandeur. Gentle and wooded and grassy slopes swept from the crags to the center of the valley. On the round summits of hills, easy of ascent, were perched here and there the busy villages of the Peruvians, each with its walled fortress and its stately temple, and all approached by broad and well-paved roads; while in the valley were to be seen beautiful avenues of willows, and, near the villages, lovely gardens and fruitful orchards.

Through the valley flowed a sparkling river, its banks hid here and there by the luxuriant and giant leaves of tropical trees, here and there patched with fields of yellow maize, and, at not distant intervals, spanned by two bridges, of which the engineering skill of civilized Europe need not have been ashamed.

It was on a slight plateau, raised but little above the level of the river, that the famous town of Caxamalca was built. Directly in front of it, stretching off toward the river, was an almost level plain, three miles long.

The town itself was imposing to the eye, and bore every evidence of skill and wealth. In its center was a vast paved square, around which a high wall was built, and which was entered by two lofty gates. Here the people were wont to meet for their festivities and religious ceremonies, and to hobnob and gossip when the day's labors were over. In the wide and well-built streets were to be seen many houses a hundred feet long, each surrounded by a wall fifteen or sixteen feet high. These houses were often roofed with wood. On entering one of them, you would have found it divided into eight rooms, as well constructed as in a European dwelling, with walls of hewn stone surrounding a court, in the center of which played a prettily-carved stone fountain. Huge palms and other trees and shrubs afforded the inmates a refreshing shelter from the blazing sun of the tropics, while in the well-kept gardens flourished flowers of the most dazzling hues.

Two fortresses loomed above the town. One rose on a hill towards the plains, near the public square, with which it was connected by a broad flight of stone steps. The other, larger than the first, was one of the Inca's palaces, and stood on a hill of porphyry between the town and the mountains. This fort was partly hewn out of the solid porphyry; it was hollowed at the surface, so that the rock formed a wall or rampart around the main building; while two other wails below joined it, forming a sort of spiral fortification. The edifice itself was built of great blocks of fine cut stone, and without any cement; watch-towers rose at the angles; it formed a hollow square; and in the court were flowers and fountains. The fortress was approached from the city by broad steps cut in the solid rock.

Many other public buildings of attractive appearance greeted the eye of the stranger as he wandered through Caxamalca. There was a "house of the sun," surrounded by a high wall, in the court of which was a noble grove of trees; and there were other temples, which the people might be seen entering with bowed heads and reverential step, having first been careful to take off their shoes, as the Parsees do in India, at the sacred entrance.

From Caxamalca there stretched away in the distance one of those noble roads which were justly the pride of Peru. It passed below the lower ridge of the mountains, and skirted and then crossed the river at one of its bendings. At last it crossed a broad grassy slope about three miles from the town.

It was upon this slope that the mighty Inca, Atahualpa, had fixed his camp.

Atahualpa sat in an open space in the midst of the camp, surrounded by a brilliant array of courtiers, nobles, women, and warriors. He occupied a wide, low, cushioned stool; while those who attended him stood erect, with their heads bare, and bowed down with respect. A group of gorgeously-attired women lay at his feet. The figure of the Peruvian monarch was tall, robust, and majestic. His handsome, swarthy, beardless face betrayed in its expression at once dignity and courage. Piercing black eyes, somewhat bloodshot, and a resolute mouth, betrayed the Inca's pride, and sternness of character; while his haughty bearing showed a consciousness of his despotic power.

While the throng about him were arrayed in dazzling robes, their persons bright with gold, many-colored plumes, and emeralds, Atahualpa himself was more simply arrayed. On his head, the jet-black, straight hair of which was cut short, he wore a circlet of fringe of very fine crimson wool, the ends being untwisted, and interwoven with gold thread: this singular crown completely covered his forehead, and reached to his eyebrows. A long, loose robe of fine wool completely enveloped his body. On his fingers he wore large rings, and on his wrists massive bracelets of gold.

Not far from where the Inca sat was the lodging which he occupied in his camp. It was a slight structure, composed mainly of galleries that formed a broad square. In the center was a small pavilion containing four rooms, richly hung and furnished, where the Inca slept, and took his meals. The court formed by the galleries contained a blooming pleasure-garden; while in the open space was also a great stone basin, reached by a flight of stone steps, and supplied with water by aqueducts from the mountain streams. This was so arranged, that either warm or cold water could be conducted into it. It was here that the monarch took his baths.

The Inca's favorite room in the pavilion looked out upon a pleasant orchard; and his sleeping-chamber, which joined it, gave a view of the court and the basin. The walls of these rooms were plastered with shining red bitumen, which gave them a bright and gay appearance.

As Atahualpa sat in the midst of his court, it was evident that both he and his nobles were stirred by some unusual excitement. One after another, generals and envoys advanced, kneeled before him, and, with their eyes on the ground (for the Inca was too sacred a person to look upon), muttered a report of what was going on at a distance. The Inca would scarcely betray, even by a nod, that he heard what they were saying. His eyes were fixed, and directed their glance straight before him. But, as report after report was brought to him, his dark features began to flush with unusual emotion, and at times his eyes flashed a fierce glance in the direction of the messenger.

Then the high priest, in whose veins ran royal blood, but who was scarcely distinguishable from the other nobles by any difference in dress, advanced, and spoke to his sovereign, as befitted his rank and sacred office, with more ease and assurance than those who had preceded him.

"Divine Child of the Sun," he said, "be not cast down at the approach of these white strangers, nor doubt the courage of your subjects and slaves. The divine orb shines above you bright and glorious: his holy rays, which illuminate your mighty empire, and impart, courage to every Peruvian breast, scorch and strike dumb the ruthless and unbelieving invader, and make him fall fainting and dying on the parched desert, and even on the fruitful plain. Think, mighty monarch, that your vast and valorous hosts are gathered around you; and you in their midst cause their souls to thrill with longings to fight and die in the defense of your sacred person."

The Inca's face lit up as the high priest spoke these stirring words: with a slight smile he nodded to the venerable man, and then turned to one of the nobles standing by.

"How many did you say these strangers were?" he asked in a low voice.

"I could not answer precisely, great Inca," replied the noble, who was no other than the Inca's brother, who had visited Pizarro's camp. "But not more, I am sure, than two hundred men."

"And how are they armed?"

"They have strange, long, round weapons, the like of which I have never before seen; and, when they hold them up, a cloud of smoke rolls out of them, and makes a deafening noise like thunder. I have heard from others, that, when this smoke comes out, men at which they point these weapons fall down, and shriek and die in agony."

The Inca was silent a few moments, as if in deep thought. The group of courtiers pressed as near as they dared to catch every word uttered by the royal envoy.

Then Atahualpa asked,—

"You spoke of some monsters they had with them."

"Yes, great Inca,—monsters much larger than a llama, with long heads and shaggy necks, with four thin legs, that they called 'horses.' They mount these monsters, which forthwith run swiftly about with them, and seem entirely obedient to their riders. These creatures sometimes throw up their heads, and make a hideous noise that startled me; but the strangers told me to fear nothing, since this was only done in sport."

"Their chief sent me friendly messages: he said that he would come and visit me?"

"He did, mighty sovereign. He said that he came to make friends with you, and not as your enemy; that his own king, who lived far away over the seas, wished to make you his brother and ally."

"But we must not trust to the words of a stranger, and of one who has already seized and plundered my country of Quito, and slain my subjects."

The Inca rose from his seat: whereupon the whole court knelt at his feet. Gathering up his robe, he stood erect, and glanced with kindling eye along the vast encampment of his army, which dotted the hillsides and plain for a great distance around. He could see his brave soldiers—their dark faces almost hidden beneath the vari-colored cotton turbans which served them for caps, their tunics of quilted cotton tightly fitting their forms, and their bucklers covering their breasts—sauntering in groups along the riverbank, or gathered in knots before their tents; while their arms, their bows and arrows, their slings and copper-pointed javelins, their battle-axes and swords, lay in heaps on the ground, or were arranged in piles beside the tents. The officers, in more brilliant array, were passing to and fro, now stopping to give an order, then sauntering away to their quarters. On their heads they wore a kind of helmet made of shaggy skins, from which rose, gracefully waving in the air, long and many-colored plumes plucked from the gorgeous birds of the tropics. On the front of some of the helmets there glittered a row of large gems, and there were bucklers adorned with gold or silver mountings.

Above each tent floated a standard richly embroidered with woolen, gold, and silver thread; while over the quarters of the Inca might be seen the imperial banner of Peru, upon which shone a rainbow depicted in its several hues.

Atahualpa's breast heaved with proud emotion as his eye wandered from group to group and from tent to tent until it rested on the outposts, so far distant as to be scarcely visible; and he felt that he might safely defy any invader who dared to try his fortune, with so noble, brave, and numerous an armament.

Calling his courtiers and generals around him, he told them that he would make a progress through the camp. Straightway four nobles advanced with the royal litter, upon which the Inca mounted and sat down. A body of musicians made their appearance as if by magic, and soon the whole camp resounded with their weird martial melodies. At the same time the group of beautiful women, who had been lying in graceful and languid postures at the Inca's feet, began to dance about the litter, and to sing a song of praise to the sun and to their sovereign.

In an instant all was bustle and hurry through the camp. Rude trumpets summoned the soldiers to their ranks; the officers hastened hither and thither, loudly giving their orders; the standards and banners were brought out; and the piles of arms melted away as each warrior grasped his weapon, and hurried into line beside his comrades.

The Inca's litter, borne upon the shoulders of four tall nobles, and surrounded by his court, generals, and women, passed in solemn state along the erect and even ranks; and officers and soldiers bent low their heads as the Child of the Sun passed, in all the refulgence of majesty, before them. The high plumes which rose above his head—for he had replaced the crimson fringe by a more brilliant diadem—nodded and waved as he was borne about; and his face, as he glanced along the lines of the strong and disciplined soldiers, assumed an expression of paternal gentleness and pride.

After passing through the entire camp, the Inca returned to the open space in front of his quarters, and busied himself with issuing his commands to his various generals. Atahualpa was already a soldier of experience and proved valor. His war with his brother Huascar had tried his metal, and had endeared him to his soldiers; and now that he was perhaps about to meet a stranger force, with mysterious weapons and a hidden purpose, he made, as he thought, every disposition to securely protect his empire.

But it was a Peruvian trait to dissemble; and Atahualpa was resolved, if possible, to get the Spaniards in his power by stratagem, rather than to meet them in open warfare. Besides, he was not sure that their designs were really hostile. It might be that they had come to offer him a valuable alliance. He might be able to strengthen his own power, which was not yet fully established, against the attempts of Huascar's party, by obtaining Pizarro's active friendship and aid.

Atahualpa reckoned with confidence on the courage, discipline, devotion, and superior numbers of his army. He counted on easily overcoming so small a force as that of the strangers in the midst of his own dominions. But he did not know the superior intelligence of the Spaniards. He never dreamed that in Pizarro he had a redoubtable rival in stratagem, who might, by a bold and shrewd device, paralyze the strength even of his numerous host, and rob him of his despotic power.

The sun went down, and the moon rose; and the Inca, having taken his bath and performed his sunset devotions, retired serenely to rest. The vast camp relapsed into silence. Nothing was heard save the regular tramp of the sentries, the plash of the fountains, and the rapid flow of the river nearby. Around the imperial quarters slept, in a circle, the Inca's bodyguard. The standards floated gently in the night breeze. No forewarning of coming disaster disturbed the slumbers of sovereign, officers, or soldiers.

Yet, on his deathbed, the Inca Huayna Capac had predicted, from the oracles long before delivered to his ancestors, that his empire was doomed to extinction by the hands of strangers with white complexions, and long, straight beards.