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banks of which are bordered by houses separated by gardens. While waiting for the framework of the brigantines to be finished and the oars and other furnishings collected, Cortes dug a canal three Italian miles long, from Tazcuco to the lake; its depth was equal to four men's height, and it was bordered by fortified dykes, between which the brigantines might float. Eight thousand native workmen, labouring incessantly for fifty days, were required to complete this undertaking and enable him to launch the brigantines on the lake. But before this double labour of construction was finished, he destroyed and burned most of the towns, both along the lake or inland, whose inhabitants had attacked him during his retreat. Thus the people of Temistitan no longer ventured to fight our soldiers in the open country.
When this astonishing operation was finished and the thirteen brigantines were launched on the lake, the people of Temistitan realised that the hour of their downfall was at hand. Necessity, however, stimulated their courage. No sooner did they learn that the brigantines were launched, than an immense multitude of barques filled with armed men approached them. After the victory the people related that these barques numbered five thousand.1 As they approached the brigantines, they were scattered by discharges from the cannon placed on the prows or along the sides of the ships. They looked like light clouds driven before the tempest.
Thanks to the brigantines, the lake was cleared, and the city hard pressed. Within a few days Cortes cut off the fresh-water aqueducts. It was Cristobal de Olid who broke the aqueducts, and to prevent provisions from reaching the city from any side, Cortes surrounded it with three armies. He first led the Tascaltecans in the direction of Astapalappa,' which they entirely destroyed, not only because it was more powerful than the others, but because it was the former residence of Muteczuma's brother, who at that time was king. Cortes was in command of this army which, according to his report, numbered more than sixty thousand men; for more allies flocked to him from all the provinces than he desired. Some were attracted by a hope of plunder, others by love of liberty.
'Cortes states in his Third Letter that the enemy's boats numbered five hundred, and his calculation is probably correct. Bernal Diaz says there were four thousand of them, but he spoke from hearsay, as he was not present during the naval engagement. It has long since been accepted that the figures given by most of the early writers should be taken as representing the idea of multitude rather than an actual count. In this instance, the surface of the lake swarmed with boats, full of warriors; their actual number is a matter of speculation.
The bridge I mentioned above, as leading directly from Astapalappa to Temistitan, was occupied by Cortes. After numerous engagements in which the enemy was always defeated, thanks to the bravery of our men, the vigour of our horses, the cannon firing, and most of all to the brigantines, the Spaniards captured the bridge near the castle, where we have already said Muteczuma first met the Spaniards.2 We have described this castle flanked by two towers, and protecting two bridges which met beneath its walls. Cortes established his camp at this point, thus finding himself at the junction of two bridges. To guard the great bridge on the other side, Cortes established another camp under the command of Gonzales Sandoval, a knight bearing the legal office called by the Spaniards alguazil. The third army, stationed on the other side of the town, was commanded by Pedro de Alvarado. It is said that these three armies together numbered one hundred and twenty thousand men.
Thus surrounded by enemies, the unhappy city endured every kind of privation. The ambition of some of her children, whose thirst for power had brought about this catastrophe, gave her as much cause for lament as her enemies did for fear. The people would have accepted our rule easily enough, had it not been for the resistance of Muteczuma's sister's son who had usurped the empire, and the pride of the nobles. During seventy days Temistitan was besieged on all sides, without rest or mercy. When our men returned to camp in the evening, after each battle, they left in the streets of the city five hundred, a thousand, or even more dead bodies. The greater the slaughter, the more abundant and joyous was the banquet to which the people of Guazuzingo and Tascalteca gave themselves up; for it is their custom to bury their foes, who have fallen in battle, in their bellies; nor did Cortes venture to forbid it. Only a few of our men, on the other hand, perished. The majority of the inhabitants of Temistitan were destroyed, either by sword or by starvation.
1 Istapalapan. 'The small fortress Xoloc.
When our men invaded the streets of the town fighting, they found piles of dead who had succumbed to hunger and thirst. At several places they destroyed palaces, after expelling the defenders.
Once Cortes was surrounded on a bridge, and captured by the enemy, but was rescued by one of his servants, Francisco Olea, who with one blow of his sword cut off both hands of the man who clutched his master, and was himself killed after he had given his horse to Cortes.
Finally the Spaniards were informed of the place where the king, his principal chiefs and followers were concealed; and immediately Cortes attacked with his brigantines and captured the flotilla of barques indicated by the spies, which carried the king to a place of concealment in the lagoon. Brought into the presence of Cortes, the king touched the dagger which the latter wore, saying: "With this iron you may and should kill me. I have done my duty and it will be painful and odious for me to live longer." Cortes reassured him, saying that he had behaved as becomes a magnanimous sovereign. Nevertheless, he conducted him to dry land, and had him carefully guarded.
When these battles had reduced the great city of Teniistitan, and after its inhabitants were almost entirely wiped out, Cortes brought all these peoples under the Emperor's rule.
Two men of the rank called by the Spanish hidalgos,I who have played an important part in these events, either in exploring the unknown provinces or in fighting, visited me. They are called Diego Ordaz and Benevides. They tell me that Cortes chose a king2 for Temistitan out of the royal family, commanding him to reside in that town, in order that the abandoned capital might be rebuilt under the protection of a sovereign; otherwise this important city would have been deserted.
Impatient of idleness, Cortes sent messengers to collect information concerning new countries. He gave orders that the country beyond the lofty mountains outlined on the southern horizon should be explored. He was informed that beyond the south slope of that mountain chain lay another sea, the same I have mentioned in my preceding decades as having been discovered by Vasco Nunez when he left Darien. There are six cities in that region, the smallest of which is larger than our celebrated city Valladolid. Their names are Teph, Mechuacan, Guaxaca, Fuesco, Tequentepech,J and the name of the sixth is not given. f. In a private letter attached to the report on the affairs of Temistitan, it is stated that it has been learned that the spice islands, which also produce gold and silver, lie not far distant from the coast.
The names of the cities situated in the lagoon or around its banks are as follows: Saltucar, Tenavica, Temistitan, Scapuzalco, Tamba, Chapultepech, the two Coluacans, Quichilobusco, Suchimilco, Quitagna, Astapalappa, Mesechiche, Coluacan, Tezuco. Benevides has just returned from those countries. Cortes gave him command of one of the two ships carrying the presents chosen by the general, and which are more precious and beautiful than those offered to His Imperial Majesty the year he left Spain for Belgium, and which Your Holiness has inspected. Their value is estimated at two hundred thousand ducats. The two ships carrying them have not yet arrived, as they stopped in the Cassiterides Islands, which the Portuguese, who own them, call the Azores. They were afraid of being captured by French pirates, as befell another ship which sailed from Hispaniola and Cuba last year, loaded with seventy-two thousand ducats of gold, six hundred pounds of valuable pearls, and two thousand rubi of sugar: a rubus is called in Spanish arroba, and weighs twenty-five pounds, at six ounces to the pound. Moreover each man of the crew had his own little treasure. Everything was seized by the pirates. An armed fleet has been sent to the Cassiterides to escort the two ships, but at this present writing they had not yet been brought in.
1 The word hidalgo is derived from hijo de algo and was used pretty much as gentleman in English. Elastic and subject to abuse, it has gradually lost its original exact significance.
1 Meaning the Aztec functionary called Chihuacoatl, or lieutenant of the sovereign through whom authority was directly exercised. Cortes wisely revived this office with which the natives were familiar.
i Tcpatitlan, Michoacan, Oaxaca, Tasco, and Tehuantepec.
According to the report of Benevides, there are on board these ships three tigers, reared from infancy in stout wooden cages. Two of these animals are on board one ship, and the third is on another. It happened that the ship carrying the two was so shaken by a tempest that the bars of one of the cages were loosened, and one of the tigers escaped. Once free, this ferocious beast tore about the vessel as furiously as though it had never seen a man. It was night-time, and the tiger rushed hither and thither, knocking over seven men, tearing off the arm of one, the leg of another, and the shoulders of a third. Two men were killed, and with a leap the tiger seized another unfortunate, who sought to escape up the mast. He was