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with the others, and cut short your tender years by a cruel death.”
The young girl exposed this plot to Aguilar, and as soon as Cortes was informed, he felt convinced that it was true. He summoned the chiefs of the town to him, and armed all his people; after which he explained the situation to his officers, and ordered that, at a signal given by firing a musket, they should fall upon the authors of this treachery, whom he would have gathered in the court of his residence for a parley. The chiefs of Chiurutecal came, and as had been agreed were at once put into irons, after which Cortes mounted his horse and rode out. The gates of his palace were already surrounded by armed men. These were the citizens who were waiting for the soldiers, ready to attack them as they came out. Cortes fell upon them before their reinforcements could join them. The battle was long and fierce: according to Cortes it lasted five hours. These treacherous barbarians were finally overcome and Cortes returned to his residence, where he called before him the manacled chiefs and asked them the reason of their conduct. They replied that the envoys of Muteczuma had deceived them; and that what had occurred was contrary to their wishes. They asked him to pardon them promising to obey him and to be no longer subjects of Muteczuma. In this day's fight the allies from Cempoal and Tascalteca gave proof of their courage, for they loathed the tyranny of Muteczuma. Cortes pardoned the chiefs of Chiurutecal, merely ordering them to summon back the women and children and all the fugitives they had sent away. This was done and all the inhabitants returned to their homes, after which Cortes sought to reconcile the people of Tascalteca with those of Chiurutecal. He desired to unite in a solid friendship these peoples who, until that time, had been enemies devoured by a mutual and mortal hatred, instigated by Muteczuma.
This town of Chiurutecal stands in a fertile plain, and inside its walls are twenty thousand houses built of stone and lime, and as many more in the suburbs. It was formerly a republic, but Muteczuma had conquered it and reduced it to a state of vassalage. Chiurutecal and Tascalteca readily obeyed the Spaniards. The inhabitants of the first of these towns are richer and better dressed than their Tascaltecan neighbours. They irrigate a large part of the country by a system of trenches. The walls of the town are solidly built and furnished with towers. Cortes writes that from the summit of a lofty temple he counted four hundred of these towers and an even greater number in the highways of the city; the latter being attached to temples. There are tracts of land in that country admirably adapted for cattle raising, and it is the only place where such have been found; for everywhere else the population is so dense that there is hardly room in the country for the crops.
After these events Cortes summoned the messengers of Muteczuma before him and reproached them with their master's treachery. He observed that it was hardly worthy of a great prince, such as he imagined Muteczuma to be, to resort to trickery, and to set traps through the intermediary of others. Henceforth, he would no longer feel himself bound by the promises he had given, since Muteczuma had so perfidiously broken his word. The envoys, half dead from fear, declared that their master had no such thought and that he was ignorant of all that had happened. Time would prove the truth of their statements. Muteczuma had never broken his word, and it was the inhabitants of Chiurutecal who had themselves invented this imaginary treason, to save themselves from the anger of Cortes. The envoys asked permission at the same time to send one of their number to Muteczuma, to acquaint him with what had happened. Cortes accorded this permission, and the envoy returned after the interval of several days, bearing gifts worthy of a king: ten golden platters, and as is customary, fifteen hundred cotton garments. I have already said elsewhere, in order to satisfy some doubtful souls, that I would later explain how this king came to possess such a supply of clothing. The envoy likewise brought a large supply of provisions, especially wines, such as the king and the lords drink. The quality does not resemble the sort used by the people, for there exist different beverages, of which the commonest, drunk by the people, is made from maize, while the others of better quality, are made from certain beans which are likewise used in place of money. I will later on return to the nature of these beans.
Muteczuma declared to Cortes through his envoy and by new messengers whom he sent, that the people of Chiurutecal had lied in attributing those projects to him, and that they had only done this in self-defence. Moreover, time would show that he was a true friend and that it was not his custom to govern by means of stratagems. Nevertheless he asked Cortes for the second time to abandon his project of visiting him in his capital. He feared famine, for his capital was built in the midst of the waters and because of its position, produced nothing. The inhabitants procure what they require by trading with their neighbours, but if guests arrived, they would find themselves in want. Cortes declared that he could not accede to the emperor's wish, for his sovereign had given him instructions in a contrary sense.
As soon as the resolution of Cortes was made known to him, Monteczuma said that he was awaiting him and would take measures that nothing should be lacking. He even sent him some of his most important officials, to serve as his escorts. Cortes therefore set out towards the city of Temistitan, consumed with the desire to behold it.
Eight leagues distant the Spaniards discovered a mountain, which is covered with ashes during the summer. Both its peaks are bare. It is called Popocatepeque, which means “The Smoking Mountain"; popoca in their language means smoke, and tepeque mountain. From the summit of Popocatepeque a cloud of smoke constantly issues, mounting straight into the heavens, and the steam it sends out is as thick as a dark cloud. The cloud of smoke is as large in volume as a great house, and it rises through the air with such force that the strongest winds are impotent to turn its course. This phenomenon amazed Cortes, and he sent ten of his most courageous companions' with some Indian guides to investigate, as far as possible, this freak of nature. In obedience to his orders they ascended the mountain, as high as possible, but the layer of ashes was so thick they were unable to reach the summit. They mounted to such a height that the roaring of the flames issuing from it and the frightful noise of the smoke were audible, to say nothing of the constant quaking that shook the mountain as though it were about to fall to pieces. Two Spaniards who were more daring than the others resolved, in spite of the contrary advice of the natives, to attain the summit. They climbed until they reached the vast crater from which the smoke poured forth, and which they say is a league and a half in circumference. Frightened by the furious roaring of the flames, they retraced their steps, and it was lucky they did, for they escaped the heat of the flames which, during their ascent, had somewhat subsided; but after a moment, the fire regained its fury and, at the same time, numerous stones were hurled into the air. Had they not been fortunate enough to find a cavern in which they took refuge while this rain of stones, which the mountain pours forth at intervals, lasted, they would have been killed. The natives were so much astonished by this exploit that they crowded about them, offering them gifts as though they were demigods. There is another matter, Most Holy Father, which I must not omit. The natives believe that kings, who have governed ill during their lives, are confined for a time in the midst of the flames of this mountain where they are purged of the stains of their crimes, and where they have only wicked demons for their companions. At the conclusion of this excursion, Muteczuma's envoys led Cortes by the road the Tascaltecans had urged him not to take. Parts of this road were sufficiently difficult because of ditches and lagoons, spanned by such narrow bridges that an entire army might be destroyed, since the soldiers could not keep together while crossing them. Cortes branched off on another road, longer and more difficult, because it crossed rocky country. The Spaniards marched through the lower parts of the valleys, overshadowed by the lofty, smoky mountains. Scarcely had they emerged from these valleys, and reached the summit of some lofty hills, than they beheld right before their feet an immense plain. This is the plain of Colua, where stands the great lake city of Temistitan." Two lakes” lie in this plain, the one of salt water, in which the town is built, and which is reputed to be sixty leagues in circumference; and a fresh-water lake, of which I shall speak more fully later. Muteczuma's envoys, who escorted our men, were asked why they had tried to lead our army in another * Tenochtitlan was the ancient name of the Aztec capital: several derivations of the word have been proposed, the most generally accepted signifying “Cactus on a rock.” * The two principal lakes in the valley of Mexico were Texcoco and
* Diego de Ordaz le?d this party. In remembrance of his exploit, Charles V. later authorised him to display a smoking volcano in his armorial bearings.