Adventures and Conquests of Pizarro - George Towle

Atahualpa a Prisoner

The sun, the deity of the Peruvians, rose bright and warm on the morning of Saturday, Nov. 16, 1532, as if to cheer his worshippers with his refulgence, and to assure them of his celestial protection.

As his rays struck the white shining walls of Caxamalca, they lit up a camp full of bustle and preparation. Pizarro had now imparted his project to his men, and a new energy seemed to animate their movements. In two halls, which formed two of the sides of the square, and were connected with it by a number of high doors, the Spanish cavalry, mounted and armed, took up their positions. The main body of the infantry occupied a third hall similarly situated; while a small force under Candia was stationed in the fortress that rose just above the square, with which it communicated by a flight of stone stairs. When these dispositions had been made, the square seemed empty; for these soldiers were all hidden from view, and only Pizarro and a few of his officers appeared in the open space.

Pizarro gave the order that no man should stir from his place until he himself should wave a handkerchief as a signal: when he did this, they were to issue forth in regular lines, and perform whatever task their officers commanded. Their lives and fortunes, he told them, were at stake, and hung upon the presence of mind and promptness with which they should act at the decisive moment.

The armor worn by the soldiers had been newly burnished, so that it shone brightly; bells had been fastened to the harness of the horses; and the soldiers had been regaled with an ample breakfast, that they might be in condition for vigorous service. The final preparation was the performance of mass by the priests, who prayed fervently that the blessings of God might attend Pizarro's design; and the soldiers solemnly chanted a hymn at the end.

The morning wore away, and yet there were no signs of the Inca's approach. Pizarro began to grow uneasy. He was greatly relieved when a sentry announced that a Peruvian envoy had appeared at the gate, and asked to be admitted to the Spanish chief.

"Let him enter," said Pizarro.

The Peruvian advanced cautiously, and glanced with surprise around the almost-empty square. He had expected to see an armament in brilliant array. Approaching Pizarro with more confidence, he spoke to him through an interpreter:—

"The Inca has sent me to tell you that he will come and see you, and that he will bring with him an armed force; for your men that went yesterday to the royal camp were armed. And he would have you send to him a Christian to attend him hither."

"Tell your master that he may come when and how he pleases, and he shall be welcomed as a friend and a brother; but I shall send him no Christian, since that is not our custom."

This envoy had not been gone long before another came and sought an interview with Pizarro. He soon made known his errand:—

"The Inca does not wish to bring his soldiers all armed, and some that come with him will be unarmed. He desires to lodge them in the town; and he himself will lodge here in the square, in the house called 'The House of the Serpent' because it is adorned with a serpent of stone."

"So be it," replied Pizarro: "only I pray that he may come quickly; for I am anxious to see him."

The messenger hastened back to the Inca's camp; and early in the afternoon, Pizarro, who had gone up into the fortress to watch for Atahualpa's approach, observed the plain alive with the Peruvian legions, who were evidently forming, and advancing upon the road towards Caxamalca. A long body would march some distance along the road, and then halt until other troops came up with them. Pizarro, as they came nearer, saw their plumes waving and their banners floating in the air, and heard faintly the strains of their strange, warlike music.

It seemed to him as if they would never cease pouring out of the camp upon the road. Within an hour the highway fairly swarmed with the Inca's troops, who approached in disciplined order and in three distinct divisions.

At last the vanguard of the Peruvians reached a plain not more than a third of a mile from the town. Here, Pizarro remarked, they came to a halt; and the army gathered more and more dense upon the plain. This puzzled him. Were they about to form in battle-array, and descend upon him in force? or were they simply pausing for rest, or perhaps to remain on the plain while the Inca paid his visit? The last supposition proved to be correct.

A messenger presently came to Pizarro, with word from Atahualpa that he intended to stay on the plain that night, and that he would visit him on the morrow.

This was not at all what Pizarro wished. His preparations to receive the Inca were all complete. If the Peruvian monarch failed to come now, his carefully-laid scheme might be defeated.

So he sent back an earnest request that the Inca should not delay his visit.

"Tell him," said Pizarro, "that I await him at supper, and that I shall not sup until he comes; and let him hasten, that I may welcome him in the square before it is dark."

This pressing invitation seemed to have an immediate effect. Pizarro knew that the Inca had decided to yield to his request by the bustle and hurry in the Peruvian camp which at once followed the messenger's return.

Presently a portion of the great mass of Peruvians began to separate from the rest, and to move directly towards the town. Pizarro hastened from point to point to tell his officers that the Inca was really coming, and to see for the last time that everything was ready and in order.

Pizarro had scarcely returned to the square, where he took up his position surrounded by his brothers, De Soto, and a few other officers, when the van of the Peruvian procession entered the gate. This consisted of a crowd of Indians, attired in curious costumes of many colors, the figures on their tunics being alternate squares of white and red like a chessboard. They carried in their hands large branches of trees, which served as brooms with which to sweep the road in the Inca's path. While some of them swept, others kept stooping down, and with great rapidity and skill picked up the straws and sticks that were strewn in the way.

These were followed at a brief interval by three battalions of men in fantastic attire, who came along singing and dancing; after whom advanced a brilliant company of warriors of noble birth, wearing metal breastplates and crown-like helmets of silver and gold, that glittered in the rays of the fast-sinking sun.

Company after company now filed in quick succession into the square,—some wearing tunics of brilliant blue; others snow-white robes, and bearing maces of copper and silver; and yet others with jeweled helmets of skin, and arrayed in the gaudiest attire, and ornaments of gems and gold. None of them seemed to be armed; but it turned out, that, beneath their tunics, nearly all carried concealed small darts, slings, and stones. There were perhaps five or six thousand.

At last there occurred a long break in the procession; and in another moment the Inca appeared, seated on a throne of massive gold upon a lofty litter, and surrounded by other litters on which sat many of his great nobles. It was a most imposing sight to see this mighty monarch seated high above the heads of those who surrounded him, the gorgeous plumes that adorned his diadem waving and nodding in, the air, the blood-red fringe covering his swarthy brow, his long robe falling in heavy folds over the sides of the glittering litter, and a wide collar of large and dazzling emeralds fastened about his neck; while on either side of the litter gathered a group of courtiers, more brilliantly arrayed than any who had yet entered the square, and wearing coronets of silver and gold.

As Atahualpa was borne forward, his countenance betrayed the serene expression of true majesty, that disdained to show emotion even if he felt it. He glanced quietly around, and looked at the little group of Spanish chiefs, who awaited him at the farther end of the square, with an air of quiet and confident dignity.

Following the cortege of the Inca came other battalions of Peruvian troops, so that in no long time the square seemed filled with them. A small fortress in one corner of the square was occupied by several of these companies. Atahualpa ordered the men who bore him to stop in the center of the open space. There he awaited Pizarro's movements.

No sooner had the litter come to a standstill than a Spanish monk named Friar Vicente, in his cowl, girdle of rope, and rosary, and holding in one hand a large cross, and in the other a Bible, advanced slowly towards the Inca, with a Peruvian interpreter at his side.

The Inca gazed at him curiously, and so did all the Peruvians. They had become used to the appearance of the Spanish soldiers; but they had not before seen a monk.

The friar stood just beneath the litter, and, raising his eyes to Atahualpa, began to speak in a solemn and measured voice. The interpreter translated his words to the Inca.

"I am a priest of God," he said, "and teach Christians; and I have come also to teach you. I teach what God tells his people in this book. In the name of God, and of the Christians, I beseech you to be their friend. This is God's will, and it will be for your good. Go and speak 4o the commander, who is waiting for you."

Atahualpa, seeing the Bible, held out his hand to take it. The monk gave it to him closed. The Inca turned it over, and looked at it curiously, and tried to open it, but did not know how. Vicente, perceiving this, stretched out his hand as if to show him; when the Inca, frowning upon him, struck him on the arm with the Bible, and at last succeeded in opening it himself. No sooner had he done so than he threw it angrily upon the ground, and, turning to the monk, answered him through an interpreter:—

"I know well how you have acted on the way hither. You have ill-treated my chiefs, and you have taken cloth from my storehouses."

Vicente was astonished to hear this unfriendly speech, and eagerly replied,—

"No, great sovereign. They were Indians who took the cloth, and our commander ordered them to be punished."

"I shall remain here," retorted Atahualpa sternly, "till it has all been restored to me."

The monk then continued to exhort the Inca to submit to the authority of the King of Spain, to become a Christian, and to abandon the idolatry of the sun. At this Atahualpa's eyes flashed; and, turning proudly upon Vicente, he said,—

"I will never be the vassal of any potentate, however mighty. I will be friends with your royal master; but I am greater than he. I will not be a Christian, but, as ever, worship my deity who shines in the heavens, and who even now sheds his parting rays upon me.

As he spoke, the Inca inclined his head toward the sun, which was just sinking behind the distant hills.

Vicente despaired of making any impression upon the Inca's mind, and, turning, walked rapidly to the spot where Pizarro was impatiently awaiting the result of his interview, at the farther end of the square.

"Sir," exclaimed the monk, "the infidel casts the Bible in the dust, and rejects my plea that he should become a Christian. See you not what is taking place? Why do you treat longer with this proud dog, when the plain is covered with Indians? Fall upon him, bold cavalier! I absolve you!"

Pizarro saw that the moment had come to put his bold design in execution. Hastily putting on a thick cotton tunic the better to protect his person, and drawing his sword, he called upon his companions to follow him, and pushed hurriedly through the throng of Peruvians towards the Inca's litter. As he went, he waved a white handkerchief above his head. Advancing straight to the Inca, he roughly seized him by the arm, and cried out in a stentorian voice, "Santiago!"

This was the watchword for action. Instantly guns were fired from the fortress and the different halls, filling the Peruvians with confusion and dismay. Out rushed the Spaniards, mounted and on foot, charging fiercely upon the bewildered courtiers and soldiers of the Inca, the horses riding down the huddled and frightened groups, and the firing of the guns creating clouds of smoke and a terrific uproar.

The poor Peruvians were completely taken by surprise, and did not know which way to turn, or what to do. Many of them had arms hidden beneath their coats: but so sudden had been the onset of the Spaniards, that they had no time to extricate them; nor could they have used them if they had. In the wildest panic they ran hither and thither, shrieking out, and terrified beyond expression by the tramping of the horses, which now seemed to them indeed ferocious monsters. Some hurried to the gates which issued from the square into the streets of the town; but there, alas! they found companies of Spaniards guarding the exits, who fired upon the wretched Peruvians as they approached, killing and wounding them, and driving them back into the square again.

While the foot-soldiers dealt deadly havoc with their guns, the cavalry, plunging their horses among the groups that crouched trembling near the walls, slashed right and left with their sabers, and mowed the Peruvians down like grass.

Soon the square was filled with the bodies of the dead and the dying, with thick clouds of smoke and the terrible din of conflict. At one point only did the Peruvians attempt to make a resolute stand. The sacred person of the Inca was in danger. A crowd of nobles and soldiers, at the first onset, had gathered close around the imperial litter, resolved to defend the precious life of their sovereign to the last extremity. These heroic men fought desperately. They grasped the Spaniards, hurled them from their steeds, struggled one against a dozen, and for a time held them at bay.

All this time, Pizarro, with drawn sword, kept a firm grip on the Inca's arm. The litter swayed to and fro with the shock of the conflict; but the cavalier was determined that his splendid prisoner should not escape him. At last the heroic nobles, who had been so bravely defending the person of their monarch, were subdued, and one and all of them lay dead or wounded at the foot of the litter.

To rush upon the bearers of the litter and dispatch them was the work of a moment. The litter fell to the ground; and Pizarro now clutched Atahualpa, who tottered and nearly fell with the shock, tightly by the arm. Some of the Spaniards, their thirst for blood fiercely aroused, were eager to put the Inca to instant death; but Pizarro had the presence of mind to see that this would ruin his project. He protected the Inca with his own body, and in doing so received from one of his soldiers a slight wound in the hand.

By this time the havoc of the Peruvians was nearly over. But few had escaped: almost the entire force which had accompanied the unfortunate Inca within the square were stretched upon its surface.

Atahualpa, as he was led away, seemed completely crestfallen and utterly dazed by what had been passing before him. He hung his head, as one from whom all glory had departed, who had tasted humiliation to the dregs. As he passed slowly along among the bodies of his dead and dying nobles and soldiers, one of the Spaniards grasped the fringe which covered his forehead, and tore it off. Atahualpa scarcely looked up. The long feathers which had adorned his diadem were broken and ruffled, and now drooped and draggled, as if to sympathize with the abject state of their wearer.

Pizarro conducted his royal prisoner to his own quarters. There Atahualpa was stripped of his gorgeous robe and jewels, and dressed in a more simple Peruvian costume; and then he was brought in to the apartment where Pizarro awaited him at supper.

It was now night; and the table, with its fare of game, fruit, and vegetables, was dimly lighted by torches borne by a line of soldiers. Without, the dismal cries of the wounded, and the bustle made by the Spaniards in securing the prisoners that had been taken, might still be heard.

The Inca, with a sad, dejected face, took a seat, as he was ordered, beside his captor; but though tempting viands were set before him, and he was still treated with some ceremony and respect, he could not be persuaded to touch a morsel.

Pizarro, having finished supping, turned to his prisoner, and spoke to him sternly through an interpreter:—

"Do not deceive yourself, Inca of Peru. We are the subjects of a mighty king, mightier than you. We have come to conquer this land in his name, to make you his vassal, and to convert you to be a Christian, so that you may not lead a heathen life as you have done. This is why we, so few, have been able to overcome your vast army."

The Inca shook his head sorrowfully, and in an absent way replied,—

"I was deceived by my captains. They told me not to fear the Spaniards, but to come forward boldly with my army, and attack them. I desired to come in peace; but they prevented me. I now see that the Spaniards are brave and daring. I have suffered the fortune of war."

"You have nothing to fear," said Pizarro, "if you submit to us quietly. I war only upon my enemies. If you keep faith with me, I will protect you."

Pizarro, though brave and brilliant in exploits, was both perfidious and cruel in his treatment of the Inca, and in his proceedings in Peru. We may admire his courage and perseverance, his self-reliance and military genius; but we cannot but condemn many of his acts as barbarous and bloodthirsty, and his objects as covetous and selfish.

While Pizarro was supping with the captive Inca, a body of Spanish cavalry, excited by their triumph, ventured out of the town, and pursued along the highway the Peruvians who had succeeded in escaping from the square. They approached the broad field where Atahualpa's main army was still bivouacked, and exulted to see that the camp was in the utmost confusion, and that the Peruvian troops, seized by a terrible panic, were making hasty preparations for flight.

They succeeded in taking a large number of prisoners. Before, however, they could infuse new terror into the already panic-stricken army, they were recalled to Caxamalca by the shrill voices of the trumpets. Re-entering the square, they found all their comrades drawn up in order, and Pizarro and his lieutenants in their midst.

When the prisoners had been huddled together in the buildings nearby, and a watchful guard had been put over them, Pizarro, standing upon the broken litter which, but a few hours before, had brought the Inca in such state and splendor to the square, addressed his little army.

"Let us give hearty thanks, my comrades," said he, "for the great miracle we have this day performed. Without God's aid, we could not have entered this land at all, much less have overcome so mighty a host. You have done nobly: retire to rest, and sleep soundly on your laurels. But remember, that, although the victory is ours, we must still be vigilant. The Peruvians are defeated; but they are cunning and skillful in war. They will strain every nerve to rescue the Inca. There yet remains much to be done. This night, and every night, the strictest watch must be kept, the rounds must be gone regularly, and we must be prepared for everything."

The soldiers were then dismissed to their quarters. The unfortunate Inca was provided with a bed in Pizarro's own chamber, and was allowed to have such of his women as he chose to wait upon him. A watchful guard was put over him; although Pizarro was careful that Atahualpa should not perceive those who guarded him.

The captor and the captive, on that memorable night, slept side by side.