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Let us now say a few words about the palaces and great country houses.
Each noble possesses, in addition to his town house, beautiful pleasure houses in the country, about which are laid out gardens, orchards, and parks in which all kinds of plants, roses, and fragrant flowers grow. Great skill is displayed in the care of these parks, and in planting hedges to enclose and protect them from invasion and pillage. In all these gardens there are ponds well stocked with quantities of various fish, and upon whose surface a multitude of aquatic birds lives. Since each noble possesses such houses, it is only proper that their supreme chief, Muteczuma, should surpass them. He has three great palaces in which he takes refuge from the heat of summer. In the first he has collected a large number of monstrosities, dwarfs, cripples, albinos, and people with one leg or two heads; and these have servants to attend them.
The second palace is stocked with birds of prey: vultures, eagles, and other varieties of carnivorous hawks and birds are kept there. Each bird has its own open cage, standing above a court and provided with two perches, one outside on which it may sun itself, and one inside on which it roosts. Each cage is separated from its neighbour by a strong barrier, and the interior court is covered with a sort of wooden lattice, so arranged that the birds may enjoy the open air, and fly about fearlessly in the quarters assigned to them. There are not only servants to attend to these birds, but there are numerous paid surgeons who know how to discover and cure the different diseases to which birds are subject.
Of the aquatic birds, those from the sea are kept in ponds of salt water, while those from fresh waters have such ponds prepared for them. At certain times of the year the water is drawn off and the tanks carefully cleaned before it is renewed. Each species of bird receives from its particular attendant the fish, plants, grain, and maize that it requires; and this food is supplied by Muteczuma's intendants and administrators.
Round about these ponds are built marble porticos whose pilasters are of marble, alabaster, and jasper. There are also terraces, from which Muteczuma may watch the birds playing or fighting, especially at feeding time. The third palace is a menagerie of lions, tigers, wolves, foxes, and other wild beasts, and there are likewise enclosures and rooms for the peacocks I have already mentioned, and which serve as food for these ferocious animals. Each of these palaces has apartments always in readiness, so that should the King fancy to pass the night there with his attendants, he may easily do so.
This is the report, as it has been made to us, and we repeat it. We likewise believe what has been written and said, first, because we suppose that nobody would venture to tamper with the truth, and also because we have learned that everything possible and not miraculous may happen. Moreover, many details have been omitted, for fear of wearying the attention of the Emperor and the court by lengthy reports.
While the Spaniards were occupied with these investigations, envoys accompanied by some of our men had been sent into some of the different provinces composing Muteczuma's empire. They were authorised in the sovereign's name to announce to the rulers that they were henceforth to render allegiance to the great King of Spain and his representatives.
From the eastern coast to the extreme limits of Yucatan extends a territory believed to be three times as large as Spain. Yucatan, the first land sighted coming from Cuba, is believed to be an island, but the fact is not yet proven. From the town of Potenchan, now called Victoria, the distance to Temistitan is more than one hundred leagues; and between the town of Potenchan and Yucatan to the gulf called Figueras the distance is the same.
In the western part, about two hundred leagues from Temistitan, is a town called Cumatana. The cacique of this town, whose name is unknown, and all the intermediary tribes and the provinces between, as far as Potenchan, were vassals of Muteczuma, with the exception of some republics of which I have said enough. All these tribes are now our subjects.
Cortes had often urged Muteczuma to return to his former palace, but the emperor refused, saying: "We must not separate; for, I repeat, my great vassals place their own interests above our friendship, and they will insistently urge me to raise a revolt among the people and make war upon you. As long as we remain together, we shall be safer against their insolent ambition."
Muteczuma was glad to sometimes return to his former palace, but in the evening he was always carried back in his litter to the residence of Cortes. In coming or going, nobody looked him in the face, and such was the respect he inspired that no one felt worthy of a glance from him. This is an ancient superstition prevailing amongst the natives.
But what? But what? and a third time, but what? Fortune, like a tender nurse, smiles upon us; her wheel turns, and caresses are changed into blows. Cortes had entered the lake city on the eighth day of September, 1519; and had there passed the winter and the greater part of the spring of the following year till the month of May, in perfect tranquillity. At this time, Diego Velasquez, governor of Cuba (or Fernandina), fitted out a fleet against Cortes, because the latter, without consulting him and in spite of him, as I have above explained, had landed and founded colonies in that region.
A little later I shall speak of this fleet, but for the moment I shall keep to Cortes alone. While he thus spent his time with Muteczuma, awaiting impatiently the return of his envoys, Montejo and Portocarrero, whom he had sent to carry gifts to the Emperor, the natives along the coast notified him that vessels had been seen on the high sea. Assuming it to be the ship carrying his envoys, Cortes at first rejoiced; but his joy soon changed into sadness.
Just here I shall omit many particulars. The Jews and Greeks, whose activities occupied a much narrower theatre, would have padded their histories with details, had their citizens been the heroes; but we may well leave out a large number of the many events that have happened. In brief, it was the fleet, sent by Diego Velasquez, whose presence was reported. It was composed of eighteen ships, including caravels armed with rams, and brigantincs with two banks of oars. This fleet carried eight hundred foot-soldiers, eighty horsemen, and seventeen cannon, of which we shall speak later.
Velasquez had appointed a young man named Panfilo de Narvaez commander; and to him Cortes at once sent envoys begging him to treat amicably, and not to spoil the promising beginning he had made. Panfilo replied that the Emperor's instructions warranted him in considering himself to be commander-in-chief of all that region, and he therefore enjoined Cortes to resign his command and to present himself unarmed before him, to give an account of his conduct, and to abide by whatever decision might be taken, either by himself or by Diego Velasquez, concerning him. Cortes answered that he would submit to letters patent from the Emperor, but he requested that they should be shown to the magistrate appointed by him to administer the colony of Vera Cruz. If, however, Narvaez had untruthfully asserted such letters to be in his possession, he had better quit the country where he intruded, taking particular care to commit no pillage in the territory he might occupy, for it was conducive to the King's interest (as he might easily understand) not to interfere with an undertaking so happily begun, by landing men. The barbarians who were already conquered and obedient to the Emperor, whose name they revered, would revolt as soon as they understood that the Spaniards' were at strife amongst themselves and acting for different ends.