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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 arc 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.
1 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.
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 direction. They answered that they were not ignorant of the fact that the other road was easier, but they had not advised taking it, because it led for a whole day through the territory of Guazuzingo, where provisions might possibly be scarce. It may here be observed that the two republics of Guazuzingo and Tascalteca were united by treaties and by the common hatred they bore to Muteczuma. Both states were poor, because, being surrounded by a formidable enemy, they had no trading relations with any other nation.
1 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."
1 The two principal lakes in the valley of Mexico were Texcoco and Chalco as here stated. In addition to these there were three others, Zumpango, Xaltocan, and Xochimilco.
Reduced thus to subsist upon local products, the inhabitants live miserably, refusing however to accept the yoke of any other sovereign. It was because they hoped, by means of the help of Cortes to extend their boundaries, that they became his allies; and as a proof of their good faith they gave him some slaves and clothing, though of little value. In addition they furnished him most generously with one day's provisions.
It was already the end of the month of August, and the mountain passes were just left behind, when the Spaniards arrived at a country house where Muteczuma loved to pass the summer. This house was large enough to receive commodiously the entire army for the night. After the forces were numbered, Cortes found he had his three hundred Spaniards, and more than four thousand allies from Cempoal, Tascalteca, Guazuzingo, and Chiurutecal. But, as I have already explained, to avoid startling weak and narrow minds, his force lay less in the multitude of combatants than in his cannon and horses, which to the natives were unknown. Provisions were not wanting, for Muteczuma's stewards provided for the needs of our men, no matter what road they took. The Spaniards suffered nevertheless from cold in the high mountain regions and were obliged to light great fires.
On that day Cortes received a visit from Muteczuma's brother, accompanied by numerous lords. They brought him a present in Muteczuma's name, consisting of superb necklaces, valued at three thousand castellanos; begging him, at the same time, to withdraw and stop wherever else he pleased. Muteczuma likewise pledged himself to pay Cortes whatever tribute the latter might fix, on condition that he would give up his visit to a town built in the water where such a multitude would necessarily be exposed to hunger, since the country produced nothing of itself. He would never at any time or for any motive cease to consider himself the subject of the king in whose name Cortes was sent. To these repeated requests of Muteczuma, Cortes replied as suavely as possible, that he himself would be quite disposed to satisfy a wish expressed by such a great monarch, but the instructions of his own sovereign forbade his doing so. It should by no means be imagined that his presence would incommode anybody; for, on the contrary, it would be useful and profitable for all of them. If he persisted in his intention, it was because he had no choice; if his visit should later prove disagreeable to Muteczuma, he would withdraw as soon as he had signed a treaty and regulated affairs, which could be more intelligently and easily done in person than by the intermediary of messengers sent from one party to the other.
During these negotiations, according to the report of Cortes, the natives never ceased to prepare ambuscades, and during the night the forests on the mountain overlooking his residence had been filled with armed men. But he had taken precautions in such wise as to forestall their perfidy and stratagem.
Continuing his march towards the lake city, Cortes came to another town in the plain, numbering twenty thousand houses. It is called Amaquemeca,1 and is the capital of the province of Chalco. Its cacique, who is a vassal of Muteczuma, extended the largest and most abundant